At long last! After weeks of a seemingly endless string of child needs I have a few stolen moments to tell you about the latest read, the frightening and fantastic high fantasy novel Throne of the Crescent Moon by debut author Saladin Ahmed. I thought this day might never come...
In case you haven't noticed from my prior reviews, world building is important to me. Since reading is my one and only escape, I want to be fully immersed in an alternate reality. I want to know how is looks, smells, tastes and feels. Transport me, authors! My life smells of baby poo and Scentsy warmers. Take me away!!
That being said, sometimes authors can go a bit too far in building their worlds and I find writers of high fantasy to be especially guilty. Okay, we've read ten tedious paragraphs devoted to the machinations of your medieval siege engine...can we see it do something? Or there is the other related problem of building a really cool world, only to have the actual plot line meant to take place in said world sort of fizzle and die a sad and lonely death amongst lots of imaginative wonder. Mr. Ahmed avoids both pitfalls and delivers a novel that does not disappoint.
Set in an Arabesque landscape, we find our unlikely hero Doctor Adoulla Makhslood. An aging and overweight ghul hunter, his irreverence and increasing disillusionment with his craft disturbs his young protege, the earnest and devout dervish, Raseed. Despite their differences, the duo successfully hunt and destroy the evil ghuls, agents of the Traitorous Angel, though Adoulla wonders how many more such battles he shall survive...or shall desire to. A lifetime of ghul hunting has not prepared the old Doctor, however, for the evil they are to encounter, a shadowy manjackal that calls itself Mouw Awa, an inhuman beast unlike any ghul they have ever seen, who steal the very souls of its victims to feed the power of an unspeakable evil that it serves.
So begins a story that weaves together magic, faith, political intrigue, horror and romance into a seamless tapestry. Its cast of characters delight. There is Zamia Banu Laith Badawi, the tribeswoman who can shapeshift into a powerful lioness, and the Falcon Prince, a charismatic outlaw in the vein of Robin Hood, among many others. The storyline is complicated but Ahmed never loses the thread and the depth of his world is amazing. By the first chapter's end, you have invested hook, line, and sinker, accepting this city of Dhamsawaat, its legends and demons, its religion and customs, its fantastic realism, as easily as if it were your own. Is it fantasy? Yes! Arabian Nights meets Dracula with some creepy, Guillermo del Toro-like action thrown in. But his characters' ease with quoting their holy book, Adoulla's love and hatred for the dirty, loud city he calls home, Zamia's recollections of tribal life...they all ring with such truth and clarity that you don't hesitate for a minute to leap right into Mr. Ahmed's world. And stay for some cardamom tea.