Book Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon (or: the prevalence of beards in modern publishing)

I need to read more books

This, of course, is dependent on me finding the time to do so, but thus far it looks like I’m finishing a book every two weeks or so. Which is…okay, but still, I’d like to read more. Really, who wouldn’t? Still, I just finished Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, so now it’s time for a review. Yeeey.

Crescent moon

For better or worse, the SF/F genre often comes from a predominantly white, predominantly male, and predominantly bearded viewpoint. Observe:.

Terry Pratchett

George R.R. Martin

Patrick Rothfuss

I know there are plenty of non-white, non-male, and even non-bearded SF/F authors out there, but there are enough occurrences of the “beardy white guy author” for me to list this as A Thing. Which in turn makes me wonder if I should grow a beard so I can in turn write a rollicking Fantasy epic that will get all the movie deals and invitations to cons and otherwise make me King Nerd.

On a side note, I’m now kind of wondering if the quality of an author’s headshot can be indicative of the quality of their work. This is even shallower than judging a book by its cover, I admit, but really. One could argue the better the picture quality is, the more effort’s being put into the marketing of the book, which means that somebody actually believes this is a project worth investing in (and therefore the book is worth your time and money). Of course, then you have things that go wrong…

Stirling

At some point, S.M. Stirling said “yes, this is how I want thousands of people I’ve never met before to picture me.”

Or maybe it’s a matter of how authors choose to present themselves, rather than the marketing. Case in point:

Terry Goodkind’s fantasy novels are SERIOUS BUSINESS, as you can see. Terry Goodkind is also a terrible author. Coincidence?

In any case, Saladin Ahmed isn’t a white guy with a beard, he’s a guy of Middle Eastern-ish descent with a beard!

Progress!

Is it just me, or does he look like a vaguely ethnic Seth Rogen? Either way, it’s a good photo, and Ahmed manages to look like a guy you’d actually want to hang out with, as opposed to “that guy” you ran into at the sci-fi convention and immediately found an excuse to edge away from. (I’m looking at you, Stirling).

Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel, The Throne of the Crescent Moon is a fun, if kind of disposable fantasy adventure. You have a party of D&D-esque adventurers (a cleric, a swordsman, a were-lioness, a wizard and an alchemist) who fight various nasty monsters and get caught up in a plot involving dark magic and assassination and so on.

What makes the book notable, however, is that instead of taking place in a vaguely medieval European setting, it takes place in a vaguely Arabian fantasy setting. Think Aladdin, or The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time videogame. There’s even sand monsters like in the Prince of Persia games, too. It’s interesting to note, however, that the setting is Arabian, but not necessarily Islamic. It’s firmly set in a fantasy-ish land, and so they have their own fantasy-ish monotheistic religion, which just about all the characters quote scripture from. Ahmed doesn’t go into too much detail with this- the religion’s there to serve the setting, not vice versa. We never get lengthy expositions on the exact fantasy cosmology as one does in, say, the Kushiel books.

Again, the setting is probably one of the stronger things about the book, as Ahmed brings Dhamsawaat, the city where the majority of the novel’s action takes place, to life. Dhamsawaat is a gritty, crowded, smelly city, in the best tradition of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar or Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpok.

In turn, the most interesting character of the book is the character most in love with the city. Doctor Adoulla (the dude in the white bathrobe on the cover) is an aging monster hunter who grew up in Dhamsawaat, and serves as its protector from the ghuls and evil magi and such that pop up from time to time. Adoulla’s combination of world-weary cynicism and his idealistic love for the city he lives in make for a compelling combination.

Unfortunately, not all of the characters are painted as well. Raseed (the swordsman) and Zamia (the were-lioness) fall in love at first sight, and the book kind of belabors this point. It’s one of those “they have feelings but they can’t admit them to each other even though everyone around them knows they’re crazy for each other (despite having just met).” We don’t even get the whole ‘they bicker with each other to cover their emotions,’ bit, it’s just like ‘oh hey, you’re kind of kickass, we should totally get married (but we can’t).’ Furthermore, Zamia spends a good chunk in the middle of the novel poisoned and out of action, which is kind of a shame, as I would’ve enjoyed seeing her maul a bunch of people.

In any case, Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon is still a refreshing work of fantasy adventure. I’d recommend it to anyone who can appreciate a rollicking monster-slaying adventure, but is tired of the same old elves and dwarves. Throne of the Crescent Moon is also Ahmed’s first novel- I’m curious to see what he’ll do with the world next.

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