Fantasy is such a very strange genre of storytelling. I’ve had a massive love for fantasy for most of my life, and I’m sure that that’s a pretty common occurrence. Most of the fairy tales, fables, and stories that we’re told as children boil down to fantasy, forming the bedrock of our narrative development. But, since America is a country that’s dominated by a Western European culture, those fables and fairy tales tend to come from a very European lens. Most of our fables are specifically English or Germanic, and as a result our biggest references for the fantasy genre come from Western European folklore and mythology. That’s why when you hear someone say they’re reading a fantasy novel you assume that there’s elves, dwarfs, and dragons. And you’re probably going to be safe thinking that. Because the vast majority of major fantasy, especially if you’re looking for a book, is going to come from the Tolkien tradition. So, the idea of finding a book that takes the form and tropes of fantasy and puts it into a different cultural lens is quite appealing to me. Enter Saladin Ahmed! I first became aware of Saladin from a combination of his stellar work with Black Bolt at Marvel, and his equally stellar jokes and thoughts on Twitter. And, after reading some of his comics work, I figured I would look into what actually jump-started his career, his first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon.
Throne of the Crescent Moon is a fantasy story that takes place in a massive town known as Dhamsawaat. It’s a fairly traditional fantasy story, but one that takes place in a far more Middle Eastern-inspired world. Our protagonists are a series of mystical hunters who have been tasked with protecting Dhamsawaat from a race of magical beings known as ghuls, monstrous homunculi that are held together with sinister magic. The group is led by Dr. Adoulla Makhslood, an aging ghul-hunter who has become jaded by a life-time of killing monsters at the expense of his personal life, while doing his best to remain jovial and detached from the whole thing. He’s aided by a young man named Raseed, a member of a holy order of protectors called the Dervishes, who finds his strict religious opinions at odds with Adoulla’s vulgar life, and the vast amount of killing that his life entails. And, they eventually pick up another ally, a young woman named Zamia who is the last surviving member of a nomadic tribe, and the beneficiary of a holy gift that allows her to transform into a magical lion.
Their three lives are brought together when a series of increasingly brutal and strange ghul-attacks begin spreading around Dhamsawaat, hinting that there’s a very powerful and dark sorcerer afoot in Dhamsawaat. And that’s confirmed when they’re attacked by a shadowy jackal creature, who grievously wounds Zamia and burns down Adoulla’s home. The trio begin investigating the jackal and the ghuls, with the help of an older couple of mystics that Adoulla knows, and slowly start to piece together a massive conspiracy involving an ancient civilization that once ruled the land, and a horrible spell that’s entombed in the Throne of the Crescent Moon, the seat of power of Dhamsawaat. Unfortunately, they find the ruler of Dhamsawaat, a cruel Kalif, uninterested in their warnings, and not interested in protecting the city from the oncoming storm of ghuls and dark magic. But, lucky for our heroes, a Robin Hood-esque figure in the city known as the Falcon Prince has been planning a coup, and they find themselves in the middle of a massive battle for the heart and soul of Dhamsawaat, which could forever change the city, and the world.
I was delighted by this novel. Ahmed is very skilled at weaving together a detailed and fun world without ever really feeling like he was spoon-feeding us exposition, which is an incredibly difficult feat to pull off in the world of fantasy. It’s so easy to get bogged down with the world-building, leaving your story little more than a Wikipedia entry, and not really a functioning narrative. But Ahmed is able to introduce us to the fantastic work of Dhamsawaat while telling a fun and exciting story, filled with fully-realized characters who were a legitimate treat to be around. And, on top of all of that, he’s able to craft a story that feels familiar, and alien at the same time. This is a real fantasy novel, showing off the tropes and elements that make the genre what it is, while also taking place in a world that couldn’t feel more different from that of Tolkien or Lewis. And it’s so incredibly refreshing. It’s a story that feels very unique, lifting a far wider litany of inspirations that most “traditional” fantasy, and giving me a glimpse into a world that I would love to visit again sometime.
Throne of the Crescent Moon was written by Saladin Ahmed and published by DAW Books, 2012.
Categories: Page Turners