Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon
It’s always an interesting experience to sit down and try to write a review on a debut novel. There are numerous questions that always raise their heads, not the least of which pertain to the standards that I hold debuts to in relation to other books. Was the debut good as compared to other novels? Or, perhaps, was it just good for a debut novel? Or was it good at all, for that matter? At times I think I’m coming to a point of convergence on the issue, but at others I still wonder.
THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON (Amazon) is the first long-form work of author Saladin Ahmed, and one that I was fairly interested in reading. After sampling some of his short stories (finding quite a few that I liked) and noting the large number of positive reviews that seemed to be floating around the web about THRONE, I finally found a slot and wedged the book solidly into my schedule.
My first impression of the book: Holy freaking cow, this thing is short! The hardcover weighs in at a whopping 288 pages. Not exactly what I’ve come to expect from fantasy fare, but THRONE had mostly been touted as a Sword & Sorcery novel (and those are usually shorter). So I wasn’t too worried about the length, but it definitely wasn’t a plus.
The story itself revolves around two main characters, but has about six that get page time. The first character of import is Doctor Adoulla Makhslood. He’s a tired, old guy that has been claimed to be the the last real ghul hunter (ghuls being corpses reanimated by a powerful sorcerer) in his city. He complains a lot, and has a lot of history riding under the wide circumference of his belt, but knows how to get the job done and does it when it needs doing. His compatriot, Raseed bas Raseed, is a young whirling dervish type that praises God and dispenses His holy justice where necessary. They both live in the city of Dhamsawaat. Over them, rules the tyrannical Khalif. And because he’s so tyrannical, there’s a guy that’s opposing him: the Falcon Prince. Age versus youth factors frequently into a story that plays outside the normal “Fantasy Sandbox” in more ways than just length.
The setting was one of the aspects of the story that I enjoyed. It is one of a more Middle-Eastern flare, instead of the much-seen medieval setting. So we get new cities, and new foods; new terms and new customs; they’re all peppered throughout the story. Although, the size of the book didn’t allow for much of the setting to be overly developed, Ahmed did a good job of portraying those pieces that were necessary, and I never really felt tripped up because of a lack of understanding. Thus, props to him for being able to give readers this new setting and keeping clarity.
The main story itself though had some pretty serious issues, from my perspective. There’s the spread of the characters to begin. Having six POV characters in a book that has fewer than three hundred pages is just asking for trouble. There just isn’t enough time to develop each of their stories. Even giving it the benefit of the doubt, the main story never really took off. It stayed very small and localized. In fact, the book felt more like a watered-down but bloated short story by the time I got to the end.
Story was another big problem: it was way too simple. Linear, straight-forward, and walk-through almost: like a D&D campaign. The plot moved from one set to the next with very little difficulty, and the usual way of things was for one character or another to say something along the lines of, “Oh. Problem? No worries. I have a guy that can help us with that.” In fact, this book could easily be a poster-child for the concept of “Conflict Resolution By Associate”.
THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON is Saladin Ahmed's debut novel has a lot going for it, but it's still got a few problems that just made it fall flat.
Continuing in this vein, I haven’t seen a more overwhelming example of Deus Ex Machina since PERDIDO STREET STATION (Amazon). (If any of you haven’t read that one, you should. It’s a great book, despite the annoying ending.) Even given that comparison, the ending in THRONE takes the veritable cake for being even a larger travesty of this type. I just sat there, literally dumbfounded, throughout the entire conclusion. And then, to top it all off, the main character passes out, and we actually miss everything that happens during the peak of the climax.
I mean, egad. That’s just wrong.
In the end, this one feels too much like a bad cake. Quality ingredients and great intentions, yes. But ultimately poor execution. So the result is more of a dense, lumpy mess of carbs that won’t really taste good no matter how much frosting you ladle onto it.
But still, the guy’s a newbie. Would I like to see him try again? Yup. I love to see the boundaries of a genre stretched. Diversity in storytelling I love. Give it to me. If the story isn’t any good though, then diversity doesn’t matter a lick.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Pretty mild. These are a God-fearing lot, for the most part.
- Violence: Gets fairly gory in parts, but mostly it's violence against the dead, and I mentioned the whole passing-out for the climax thing already, yes?
- Sex: Mild, but chaste attraction between two characters
really surprised you did not like this. This is on my list of books to read. I have been looking for fantasy books with non-western backdrops. I want to add that I really like the way you guys review books. You are very good at explaining why you like or dislike a book. Even if I end up disagreeing with a review, the reasons you give help me decide whether I might like a book.
A big issue I have with fantasy is that when I read a blurb of a book, I really only see 2 categories: Fantasy that takes place on Earth and Fantasy in a made up universe. I cannot tell from the blurb whether I might read the book or not. I tend to only read fantasy books after reading reviews.
Though the reasons you gave for not liking a book are often the reasons that I don't like a book, I will still buy the book to check it out. I like that the author is working with a non-western world. It is different. I really do appreciate your quality reviews. I wish there was a good Sci-Fi focused review site that did reviews similiar to your approach.
We do review Science Fiction… about half of our last few dozen reviews have been SF. One of our reviewers, Shawn, pretty much focuses on SF. We have a pretty good balance genre reviews here, I think.
If you want a non-western setting that has the same vibe as this book, try THE DESERT OF SOULS by Howard Andrew Jones. I've yet to read it, but people whose taste I trust tend to lean towards that book rather than the one reviewed here.
RANGE OF GHOSTS by Elizabeth Bear (EBR Review) is a non-western setting and MAGE'S BLOOD by David Hair (EBR Review) has at least a partial non-Western setting.
The books are out there… but that's why you have us. So you can find the good ones.
It is rare I disagree with a review on this site, but I'll have to disagree with this one. I loved Throne of Crescent Moon. Perhaps the greatest thing I like is that 4 of the 6 heroes are actually old people way past their prime, somehow pulling together for one last fight. Heroes are meant to overcome all manner of adversity, and over half the team are fighting the inevitability of Time. The scattered POV didn't bother me at all, but maybe that's just me.