Feb. 12th, 2012

hawkwing_lb: (Aveline is not amused)
Books 2012: 19

19. Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon. DAW, 2012. Book One of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms.

I first heard of [livejournal.com profile] saladinahmed in the misty past of late 2010, via [livejournal.com profile] matociquala. There's a story of his on Beneath Ceaseless Skies that I read shortly thereafter. I've been looking forward to reading Throne of the Crescent Moon, his debut, for over a year.

(Why? Because I've nursed a certain tenderness for medieval Arab culture since my first introduction to the poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi and the travelogue of Ibn Battutah - I even went off to read the Qu'ran all the way through in order to better understand the references, especially in lads like Ibn Khaldun and Osama ibn Munqidh - and the idea of an Arab-inspired fantasy is incredibly attractive to me. Also people kept saying Look forward to this.)

(I haven't had time to read all the Thousand and One Nights. Do you know that the Penguin translation's in three volumes of about a thousand words each?)

Anyway. I'm supposed to be reviewing this properly for Strange Horizons, so I'll be brief. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, a sixty-year-old ghul hunter, and his young assistant, the dervish Raseed bas Raseed, fight crime evil magic. Adoulla's been doing it his whole life, and he's a little tired of it. Now evil sorcery is attempting to gain dominion over his home city of Dhamsawaat. Adoulla and Raseed, together with Zamia, a young Badawi girl who can turn into a lion, and Adoulla's long-time friends, an alkhemist and her magus husband, must oppose the shadowy wickedness aiming at the Khalif's throne - not because it's the Khalif's throne, but because it's Adoulla's home.

Reading it, I was reminded a lot of Robert E. Howard. This is solid adventure fantasy, sword and sorcery style. But Howard was a racist, sexist sack of shit (however fun Conan is), and Ahmed isn't. Ahmed doesn't overlook consequences, either. Adoulla's Dhamsawaat is a city of the poor and middling, not the wealthy inner circle of court. Ahmed has a deft touch with his setting, and makes it come alive. He's also not half bad at characterisation. (That's an understatement.)

The book does suffer from first-novel problems, however. In the first few chapters especially, it's clear that Ahmed is still finding his voice, still feeling his way into the structure of a novel. The pacing and tension remains uneven, and only gradually do isolated incidents begin to acquire coherence in the larger narrative. Though the tension becomes more controlled and focused towards the end, it does wobble some, and it doesn't always feel as though Ahmed's in control of his novel's structure. But it is enormously fun.

Also? It is refreshing to read a novel with medieval Islam at the heart of its cultural setting, and not medieval Catholicism or neopaganism.

More details, nit-picking, etc, will happen in the Real Review. For now, I would like to ask [livejournal.com profile] saladinahmed or the knowledgeable internets if there's a sequel in the works, because that's solid work and I would like more of it, please.

The Three Musketeers (2011) is a superhero film in period costume. I suspect Dumas would approve. Me, I think it's a perfectly entertaining ridiculous way to spend ~two hours.


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