Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review of Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

What does a company do when its image is getting old, when people are too familiar with its appearance and style?  How does it revitalize without spending the money it’s been losing due to its fading façade?  Re-brand, of course!  They leave the core elements alone, but lacquer on a fresh veneer in the hopes of re-generating interest.  McDonalds has had several different mottos, advertizing campaigns, and put Ronald in differing situations in an attempt to keep things fresh.  But forever backing profits are Big Mac, fries, and a shake.  This reminds me of Saladin Ahmed’s The Throne of the Crescent Moon (2012).  Arabian magic, desert cities, and a wholly Middle Eastern feel flashing brightly across the eye, at its core nevertheless resides the tried-and-true framework of traditional sword and sorcery.

Doctor Adoulla is a man sixty years old, overweight, and a hunter of ghuls.  His native city Dhamsawaat, for all its elegance and squalor, has recently seen a rash of the murderously macabre phantasms.  His young dervish assistant Raseed an expert swordsman, together the two go into the desert to find the evil that is creating the ghuls.  Running into Zamia, a young female Bedouin with shape shifting powers, the three form a loose band after a victory over a particularly ferocious group of ghuls.  Complicating the hunting is that a Scarlet Pimpernel-esque man calling himself the Falcon Prince is appearing at surprise times in the city, fomenting revolt against the evil khalif and his young son.  Everyone’s story coming to head (you guessed it, at the throne of the crescent moon), evil flies before the magic and martial prowess of Adoulla and his team.

A handful of exciting action scenes, some eye-catching magic, a nicely developed setting, a little romance, and voila, a novel that is easy and fun to read.  Within the context of sword & sorcery, Ahmed does several things well.  He keeps his story continually balanced between plot and character.  The doctor, Rasheed, Zamia, and the others are all distinct voices with singular purposes and ambitions.  The prose, while not lush or grand, does not walk the camp Robert E. Howard path to cheapen itself, but instead conveys a colorful story that continually progresses the overall storyline.  And lastly, the imagery is vivid and some of the scenes possess degrees of emotion.  Overall, Ahmed imbues his creation with a storyteller’s touch.  Beyond the context of s&s, well… 

In the end, The Throne of the Crescent Moon is classic sword and sorcery featuring colorful characters, fun magic, and fantastical creatures in a sharp Middle Eastern setting.  Much more Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser than 1,001Arabian Nights, Ahmed endows his deserts and minarets, khalifs and ghuls, turbans and secret scriptures with an adventure story the genre has never seen for its surface, but has seen thousands of times for its foundation.  Light entertainment, it will certainly appeal more to the side of genre who don’t mind ‘rebranding’, while those tired with the formula, no matter how it appears, will be somewhat disappointed.  At a minimum Ahmed does the little things right, which will be enough for most to see things through to the dark conclusion. 

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