A striking new voice in fantasy introduces us to a new world and an old mythology.
The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at boiling point. A power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince is reaching its climax. In the midst of this brewing rebellion, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. Only a handful of reluctant heroes can learn the truth, and stop the killing.
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame's family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter's path. Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla's young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God's justice. Zamia Badawi has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man's title. She lives only to avenge her father's death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father's killer. Until she meets Raseed.
I don't read much fantasy, mainly because the genre doesn't often appeal to me. Every now and then I come across one that takes my fancy, and because of my taste I'm rarely disappointed when I put sci-fi aside to read one. Over the past few years only a handful of fantasy books have made it into my reading, and of those few only two stuck with me: The Painted Man by Peter V Brett and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed can be added to that small and exclusive club.
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is a ghul hunter, and with his assistant, Raseed bas Raseed, he hunts and kills ghuls. It's a lonely life, with devotion to the craft being of utmost importance. Between the two of them Adoulla and Raseed are successful in their work, and as one of the last of the ghul hunters there is always work on the horizon. But when he takes a job for his old flame after members of her family are murdered, Adoulla realises that despite his age and experience, there are some things that not even he has faced. And as he learns more of this new foe, he realises just how much danger the Crescent Moon Kingdoms face.
The characters we follow are all well developed, and not in the sense of becoming more rounded as the story progresses, but from page one. Adoulla and Raseed have an amusing relationship, with Raseed the holy man bound by strict rules of his faith, and Adoulla much more experienced and world-weary. Adoulla has much to offer as a character, and it is through him that the story really gains its legs, adding so much to what seems to be a fairly standard good-versus-evil tale. Raseed cannot justify anything that is even slightly wrong, and while it starts to grate a little by the end, his character is interesting and does evolve, but stays believable to his faith and ways. The other character that I enjoyed was Zamia, who is almost the complete opposite to Raseed. A member of the wandering tribes, and one of very few that can shape shift into the form of a Lion, Zamia completes the core group and adds her own impulsive ways.
The story, on the whole, is a fairly simple affair, with the threat of dark and evil beings to the Crescent Throne slowly becoming more pronounced. The Falcon Prince - another character I found amusing and interesting - is bringing about a rebellion against the Khalif, and events within the city of Dhamsawaat are unstable at best. There are more layers to the story than initially come across, and the more it progresses the more intriguing it becomes.
As for the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, and the wider world in which the story is set, I was impressed with how easy Ahmed conveyed the world building without bogging down the story. Yes, there are aspects left untouched, but they are off-page and not central to the story, but despite that there was a true feeling of history and scale to the world. The biggest plus point for me about this book was how easily I slipped into the setting and understood what was happening, how things worked in the city of Dhamsawaat, and just how real it all felt to me.
Throne of the Crescent Moon gave me the sort of story I often want, but rarely find. The prose is easy to read, the characters and setting a joy to behold, and the story begs you to read just another chapter. It's an impressive novel, and Saladin Ahmed is an author I'll be keeping my eye on.