For all the different types of fiction I read, Sword and Sorcery Fantasy is one I normally avoid. My past attempts at reading in that subgenre have normally been foiled by the tendency of some authors to spend too much time on establishing the realm and too little on the characters or action. With Throne of the Crescent Moon I found myself torn. On the one hand, there was all the praise heaped on Saladin Ahmed’s debut. On the other was my reluctance about the genre. True, it was likely I had simply had the bad luck to choose substandard examples, but that didn’t make me any less concerned to try this book.
I decided to go for it in spite of those reservations, largely as part of a continued desire to explore outside my reading comfort zone. I am very glad I did, as Ahmed has produced a rich, exciting, and beautifully rendered world I would gladly return to. Ahmed has imagined a medieval Islamic nation, where demons prey on the innocent, and ghul hunters and dervishes are the strongest line of defense against such terrors. Shape shifters, noble thieves, and corrupt rulers populate a world steeped in a vibrant, dangerous land.
The Middle Eastern setting is one of the strongest assets of this book. Rather than some enchanted version of Europe, this setting removes the story far from any world I’m familiar with. Dhamsawaat, the setting, is the kind of exotic, bustling city rife with mysteries and danger readers could lose themselves in for days on end. Beyond that, the action sequences Ahmed develops are remarkable. The characters were also refreshing; it’s not every day your lead character is sixty-something. Dr. Adoulla is cranky, but also smart and savvy, and for every time he complains about his age there are many more where he boldly faces down evil. His assistant Raseed is earnest and at times unaware of the shades of grey that sometimes make choices more difficult. His bravery and valiant carriage sometimes annoys Adoulla, but his blade proves invaluable in their battles. When the shape shifter Zamia joins them, the dynamic between characters really begins to crackle.
I took longer to read this than the book’s length would normally demand, mainly due to the lush descriptions of Dhamsawaat and it’s surrounding areas. I let myself get lost in this book, and forced myself to read slower to make it last as long as possible. Sadly, I had to come to the end, but I’m heartened to know this is the beginning of what I hope will be a long career. I look forward to other journeys to the world Ahmed has created, and hope to return there soon.