The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (thoughts)
Just when my arthritis started cooperating my fibro decided to get a bit cranky. So I’ll have to ease back into blogging rather than the diving I’d prefer. Thanks in advance for bearing with me!
Today I’m taking part in the A More Diverse Universe tour, the brainchild by one of my favourite bloggers, Aarti of BookLust. It’s about highlighting fantasy authors who are also POC (people of colour), celebrating different perspectives and the enrichment they bring, and hopefully encouraging the genre to diversify itself further. As a fantasy lover myself, and a reader firmly committed to multicultural lit, I’m like a kid in a candy store looking at all of the wonderful titles to be discussed!
For myself, I went with The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, a straight-up fantasy novel that got my attention a few weeks ago when I passed my library’s new books section on the way to pick up my holds. Ahmed is American and has published award winning short stories, but this is his first novel. I happen to love Middle Eastern lit, and enjoyed every page of my experience with The Arabian Nights, so I was thrilled to see a new fantasy series (trilogy perhaps?) inspired by this and checked it out despite it having one of the most truly unfortunate covers I’ve seen in awhile.
I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed: The Throne of the Crescent Moon is steeped in Arab culture, from the opening pages set in a tea shop to the way that the spells of the main character call upon the different names of God to the dialogues, everything is pitch perfect. While set in an imaginary city, the city felt like I imagine Cairo would have a few centuries ago, with the addition of magic of course. Thanks to Ahmed’s descriptions, I felt like I was walking through the streets as well. Both the city and the surrounding desert felt like characters, and I loved the strong sense of place.
Speaking of characters, they were well drawn too. While definitely ‘types,’ they worked well together, and Ahmed did a good job handling the realities of gender in historical Arab cultures without condoning them. I could have wished for more complexity (the characters could be easily summarised with two or three word labels if one was so inclined), but they were sympathetic and hopefully will be developed further in the future books.
All of that being said, while I absolutely loved some aspects of the book, I had serious difficulty with the plot. It made sense, and was page-turning I suppose, but it was just too violent for me. The very first thing the reader encounters is a prologue in which someone is being horribly, graphically tortured, and while most of the book didn’t have that feel, there were occasionally prologues to other chapters that had that vein. These disturbed me, and I think it would have been a better book without them. Also, the plot seemed to race from one violent attack to another; while I’m sure this would appeal to fans of novels like The Knife of Never Letting Go, it’s not my cup of tea. I prefer my horror to be psychological rather than graphic, and my mysteries to be traditional rather than hard boiled. Keep in mind, though, that I’m not a plot reader: I’m far more interested in setting and characters and am perfectly happy with a book about which others might complain ‘nothing happened.’
In the end, I’m glad that I read The Throne of the Crescent Moon, and I’ll certainly give Ahmed’s future writings a try, for their marvelous sense of place and culture. That being said, he didn’t bound on to my list of favourites. I would highly recommend this to readers who love action filled plots but those who prefer ‘literary’ fantasy might have better luck elsewhere (I think I might actually put a list together based around that theme!).
Who are your favourite POC fantasy authors?