Throne of the Crescent Moon

May 31, 2014

Good fiction can transport you from your own time and place; better fiction can dislodge you from your own culture, as well.

Dhamsawaat, King of Cities, Jewel of Abassen
A thousand thousand men pass through and pass in
Packed patchwork of avenues, alleys, and walls
Such bookshops and brothels, such schools and such stalls
I’ve wed all your streets, made your night air my wife
For he who tires of Dhamsawaat tires of life

Throne of the Crescent Moon is Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel and one of last year’s Hugo Award nominees for best novel. If you like adventure fantasy but are tired of stories about self-righteous European-looking folks reliving a whitewashed version of the crusades, then Crescent Moon is for you.

The plot and action are gripping, but how the book really shines is with its characters. The protagonist, Adoulla Makhslood, is a ghul-hunter who uses prayer to fight the undead. He’s nearing retirement, or as he memorably puts it, has paid his “fare for the festival of this world.” And yet, stubbornness and righteousness conspire to keep him fighting. Adoulla reluctantly teams up with Raseed bas Raseed (“Raseed, just Raseed”), a zealous young Dervish with much to learn about subtlety. Filling out their troupe is Zamia, a girl from a nomadic tribe that’s been wiped out by an evil necromancer, and who has the ability to shapeshift into a lion. His young companions try the old Adoulla’s patience, and the romantic tension between Raseed and Zamia strains things between the two of them as well. Yet the great threat they face forces this unlikely posse to come together and learn from each other.

My favorite characters were Adoulla’s longtime friends Dawoud and Litaz, an endearing old mage and alchemist whose lives have been indelibly marked by tragedy, but who nonetheless—or perhaps for that very reason—find remarkable strength within each other. Sure, they cast spells and brew potions, but it’s a credit to the author that these fantasy elements in no way distract from the very real heartbreak and respect one feels for them.

I’ll end this with one of my favorite passages, on the importance of reminding oneself of one’s values.

[Raseed] ran his gaze up and down his sword’s blade and slid it carefully into its ornate sheath of blue leather and lapis lazuli. Adoulla had watched him clean the blade just yesterday, and he doubted that the boy’s sword had grown dirty since then. But he had come to understand that this ritual of Raseed’s was about more than maintaining a cherished weapon. It was about focus. About reminding himself, each and every day, what truly mattered to him. Taking a last long look around the bookshelves and bureaus of his townhouse, Adoulla himself felt something similar.

Looking around this website—my library, in a way—I have some idea how he feels.