Speculating on SpecFic

Fantastic Literature: From epic fantasy to fairytales to myth-making

Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon - Saladin Ahmed The idea behind Throne of the Crescent Moon is great - an epic fantasy with middle-eastern roots featuring djenn, ghuls and royal vizier's with mystical powers. I wanted this book to read like a darker Aladdin (naive I know, but I love Aladdin), something akin to One Thousand and One  Arabian Nights, full of magic and intrigue. I got something so different, it's a miracle I finished the book.It begins with the torture of a palace guard - a bloody and gruesome ordeal that had me geared up for a great tale. And then I met the lead characters. I don't think I've ever gone from excited to bored so quickly. They're stereotypical, utterly unoriginal - Adoulla is old and tired and wants to retire from his ghul-hunting days, but he's never seen fit to train a successor and is now stuck doing it all himself, wheezing and stumbling along the way. Raseed, his assistant, is blindly devoted to religion and quotes religious texts at every opportunity he gets, and spends most his time rolling his eyes at his mentor's antics and questioning his morals. If that wasn't enough, they are soon joined by Zamia, a feisty shape changer hell-bent on revenge. She and Raseed fall in love at first bloody sight, for absolutely no reason, and spend the rest of the book sneaking glances and staring and generally making me nauseous.The plot is well thought out and relatively exciting. It's not grand, not in the way I was expecting it to be, but was kept entertaining by the addition of two further characters, the husband and wife duo Dawoud and Litaz. Their function is to foil the original trio, to comment on their idiosyncrasies, make peace between them when needed, and generally be voices of reason, and I really believe that it's only because of them that I finished the book. Litaz is my favourite character by far, straight forward and honest and a natural heroine. Adoulla stumbles into a dire plot to overthrow the ruler of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, and although it's always his intention to help out in whatever way he can, it feels like he is only really spurred into action because of his personal losses - his home, his friends and his relationships all suffer in the course of this adventure. He's not really a reluctant hero, but more an accidental one: he ends up saving the world while pursuing his own revenge. It's certainly different from the usual fantasy reads, and I quite liked it.While it's refreshing to read a book set in the Middle East, and I wouldn't have minded the author always reminding us of this fact in the way his characters addressed (giving peace) and greeted (cheek kissing) one another, I felt it was all too much. At under 300 pages Throne of the Crescent Moon isn't exactly a long read, but it could have been between around 10% shorter if the characters weren't constantly thanking, blessing or taking the name (in vain) of their God. There are less than ten pages in the narrative that do not have the 'God' in them. It feels like their religious beliefs are constantly being flung into the reader's face, and it's quite frankly exhausting.I took the author's examination of gender roles and masculinity in stride, seeing as the book is set in the Middle East and it would have been odd if he hadn't, but I confess I balked when, in the midst of a battle, Litaz, an otherwise confident and capable woman, had this pearl of wisdom about herself: "She was a woman. God had not made her body for this". I know I'm meant to then marvel at how Litaz got up and fought anyway, how she ended up being an integral part of the final battle, but it's hard because, with those two lines, the author eroded away any progress he'd made by writing two strong (albeit stereotypical) female characters.I will freely admit that I didn't like this book because of personal biases and expectations, and there are many who have loved the refreshing tale and its exotic setting. I wanted more from Throne of the Crescent Moon, however, and in my eyes it failed to deliver. Although I hope that the sequels are more to my liking, it's looking unlikely that I will pick them up.A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.