Friday, March 20, 2015

Throne of the Crescent Moon: A Different Kind of Fantasy Adventure

I love fantasy adventures: brave heroes wielding magic and skill to face evil monsters and protect the land. I have read, watched, and played in countless such stories, but somehow it never really occurred to me how similar they tended to be. The heroes were almost always white men. The setting was almost always some variant of medieval Europe.

Throne of the Cresent Moon is different. In this novel, Saladin Ahmed creates a story set in a fantasy world inspired more by the Middle East than Europe. Instead of having a young man as the hero, the main character is a portly, older man who fights more with his knowledge than with brawn.

But don't worry. it has all of the excitement and adventure that you would want from a fantasy novel!

The story centers around Dr. Adoulla Makhslood, who fights ghuls with the aid of magical spells that work through invoking the names of God. He is assisted by Raseed bas Raseed (meaning "Raseed, only Raseed"), a teenage dervish who is a genius at using the sword, but whose strict upbringing has left him socially awkward. Along the way, a young tribeswoman named Zamia joins them. Zamia wields a power that may prove key to stopping the source of the ghuls, if her desire for revenge does not destroy her first.

The story centers around the city of Dhamsawaat. One of the most interesting things to me about Throne of the Crescent Moon is how multicultural and vibrant the city feels. I think that a lot of American media, even if it's well-intentioned, tends to depict Middle Easterners as uniformly brown people in turbans and baggy pants, but in reality there is a huge variety of people, and the fictional Dhamsawaat reflects that. Each of the major characters belongs to a different ethnic group, and yet they work together as a team to save the city.

The novel doesn't rely only on the novelty of its setting to be interesting. The relationships between the characters and the way the plot unfolds kept me hooked until the end. Plus, the author is a Dungeons and Dragons fan, and I can safely say that the novel has the feel of a well-run campaign of D&D. You can read the first chapter online here. Saladin Ahmed has mentioned that he plans on writing a sequel, and I can't wait!

Before I wrap up the review, I will include one word of warning: there are some scenes of torture in the novel, including one right at the beginning. These scenes are glimpses of the threat the heroes face, and they are intentionally disturbing. All in all, they make up only a small part of the book, but if it sounds like something you want to steer clear of, you should skip the first chapter at the start of each section.

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