I’m late to the party checking out Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon which given my love for the work of Howard Andrew Jones’ Chronicles of Sword and Sand is even more egregious an error than you might expect. However, unlike Jones’ work Adhmed takes several big steps away from the historical choosing instead to center his story a bit more loosely. The Crescent Moon Kingdoms of Ahmed’s novel are familiar but not explicitly defined as part of our world and borrowing just enough from history to lend the story an air of credibility and tangibility. The story of Throne of the Crescent Moon centers on ghul hunter Doctor Adoulla Makhslood and features a strong cast of supporting characters including the dervish Raseed, the shapeshifting Zamia, the mage Dawoud, and the alchemist Litaz. A series of seemingly unrelated events see the Doctor uncovering the fact that recent murders in the city of Dhamsawaat may be more than they appear and that something ancient, evil, and dark is stirring beneath the sands.
Ahmed nails creates an extraordinary sense of place that in is inextricably linked to his main character Doctor Makhslood. In simple, broad strokes and with only the lightest hint of exposition Ahmed invests the Doctor with a deep sense of history. It is apparent from the opening chapters that this is a man with deep history and strong roots both of which are tied to the city of Dhamsawaat; a place that the good doctor both loves and loathes. In the Doctor, Ahmed has crafted a character who is almost in the twilight of his years but who still loves life in all its forms. It is that last bit that has seen done the Doctor the most harm as his drive to protect others has prevented him from experiencing life to its fullest.
Under the Doctor’s wing is the dervish Raseed. Raseed’s hope, naivete, a bright passion serve as excellent counterpoints to the Doctors more careworn views of the world and its inhabitants. Indeed, Raseed’s zeal when played against the Doctor’s far more relaxed views on the world often offers a great deal of comic relief throughout the novel. There are some lovely moments, particularly when Raseed is sharing space with the rebellious Falcon Prince, that showcase the young warriors skill and his innocence. A good portion of Throne of the Crescent Moon is given to the subtle education of Raseed as the realities of the world, and love, collide headlong with the seeming inflexibility of his religious beliefs. Similarly trouble by her own views Zamia is confronted with the same problems albeit from a different perspective. The loss of her Bedouin tribe and her reliance on the Doctor for help in tracking down the killers wars with her independent nature and her wounded sense of honor.
The group of heroes is cemented by the addition of the Doctor’s long time friends Dawoud and Litaz. The wisdom and experience of Dawoud, Litaz, and the Doctor together serve as excellent means to reign in and help educate the two zealous, and powerful, youths. Ahmed once again nails two more characters in Dawoud and Litaz. While Dawoud is not quite given as much a presence as Litaz his willingness to use his magical gifts, which are powered by his own life energy, to aid others is a testament to his character. Litaz, makes another fantastic addition to the story. She is a woman who has given up much to be with the man she loves but she is also a woman who is extremely talented and supremely capable.
I’ve talked very little about the plot and truth be told the story feels almost secondary to the characters. There are monsters, magic, and dire threat to face but all of that seems to pale in comparison to the personal journey taken by the characters. For me this is a strength rather than a weakness. The audiobook version of the novel is performed by the talented Phil Gigante. From his haughty tones for the Falcon Prince to sibilant whispering of the novel’s villain Gigante’s performance bring Ahmed’s already wondrous world to life. If you enjoy audiobooks I can’t recommend Brilliance Audio’s production of Throne of the Crescent Moon enough. Throne of the Crescent Moon is an amazingly accomplished first novel with characters that are engaging and a setting that is brilliantly vivid. The sequel The Thousand and One is still forthcoming and I for one can’t wait!