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 only a few have stuck with me – but now 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.
Throne of the Crescent Moon is not a long book, coming in at under 300 pages. With many fantasy novels hitting double that page count, you’d be forgiven in thinking that such a slim novel might not offer the most in-depth world building, nor the longest or most interesting of tales. But you’d be wrong. Throne of the Crescent Moon is a hugely enjoyable story set in a world that has been vividly realised.
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.