Throne of the Crescent Moon

Posted on December 13, 2016 at 12:25 AM

Book Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Science-fiction and fantasy stories are at their best when they truly fascinate, immersing the reader in new worlds or cultures. The best of the best will go one step further and encourage readers to more than fascination; they will engender an insatiable curiosity, the sincerest sympathy, and a boundless empathy. Saladin Ahmed’s tale of ghul hunters and mystics fighting ancient evils does exactly that.

The book opens with a gruesome scene involving the antagonist, but quickly moves to introduce Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, the pure-white kaftan wearing ghul hunter of the city of Dhamsawaat. Here was a man I’d never met in any of the books I’ve read, and in a city I’d yet to visit either in truth or fiction.

My curiosity piqued, I read on from the opening chapters to delve deeper into the tale of Adoulla and his companions. While Adoulla occupies center stage more often than the other characters, his brusque manner left plenty of room for me to identify more closely with Adoulla’s friends, Dawoud Son-of-Wajeed, and Litaz Daughter-of-Likami of the Soo Republic to the east. Even more fascinating was the character of Adoulla’s assistant, the dervish, Raseed bas Raseed.

I’m no devoted or pious follower of any faith, but I recognize and appreciate the values of discipline and devotion. You can take the man out of the Army, but … Raseed’s strict behavior, and his internal struggles, paint a picture of a young man with a rigid concept of right and wrong (a young man I remember seeing in the mirror years ago). I found myself wanting to applaud Raseed’s insights when they matched up with my own thinking (everybody loves an ego reflector) and at the same time I could not deny a sense of admiration for Raseed when he stood strong in his values and refused a temptation to action or speech – restraint, discipline, and honor are the hallmarks of the dervishes in Saladin Ahmed’s world, and his most pious character was an exemplar of all three.

The tribeswoman, Zamia Banu Laith Badawi, with her shapeshifter’s ability, was a refreshing sight as well – it’s not uncommon to have adolescent girls occupy places of power and agency in fiction, but Zamia’s genuine autonomy felt like a welcome change (maybe I’ve just been reading the wrong books).

Saladin Ahmed has written a stellar tale of intrigue, suspense, and, at times, horror. The ghul maker only gets a few pages to his name, but they were among the most ghastly parts of the book. Thankfully, they are short and are clearly included not to horrify or shock, but to encourage greater sympathy with the protagonists: the bad guy is someone who absolutely must be stopped.

I have never visited the regions to the east of the Mediterranean Sea. My only travels there have been through history classes, the occasional poem, and the ubiquitous news reels of our modern day. This news, at least in my home country, seems aimed at maintaining a view of the Middle East as being a hotbed of war, misogyny, religious fanaticism, and government corruption.

Certainly those things are true of some areas in the Middle East, but the same could be said of my home country. More importantly, with all stories the whole truth contains so much more than we are first shown.

That was my motivation for reading Saladin Ahmed’s book: to learn more about the one part of the world that has, for all of my years, been presented to me as a place I would never want to visit. Despite Throne of the Crescent Moon being a work of fiction, I had no doubt that I would learn from it. And learn I did.

From the scenes of conviviality around tea and plates of food, to scenes of bustling markets, or quiet nights under the stars in the open desert, Ahmed’s story showed me visions of what I always knew to be true about the Middle East, but which I had allowed to be quelled and forgotten behind the news of the day. I turned the final page of Ahmed’s book with a sense of being cut off from the Middle East, and from the vibrant, colorful, joyous, and wondrous scenes of life there. And I hoped that worldwide efforts might someday soon be truly joined in service to conviviality, to trade, and to peace.


Categories: Book Reviews

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