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The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (thoughts)

September 25, 2012

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?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. aartichapati permalink
    September 25, 2012 8:46 pm

    Thanks so much for participating, Eva, even though I know you have been dealing with a lot recently. This book has been a popular choice, and I’m interested to see how people react differently to it.

    I read Bayou by Jeremy Love (volumes 1 & 2) and really enjoyed it, though I am sad the series isn’t done yet!

    • September 25, 2012 9:06 pm

      I read the first Bayou book ages ago (before there was a vol 2!) and loved it. I need to track down the next one. :)

      And of course I had to participate! I think it’s so awesome you organised this Aarti. :D I didn’t realise this was a popular choice; I decided to write about it rather than The Inheritance Trilogy (which I lurved) because I saw that one was on the list quite a bit already. Right now, I’m halfway through Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber and I wish I’d started it earlier so I could have featured it today. That would have been a wholehearted gushy review. hehe Anyway, I’m curious to see what others make of this one too.

      • aartichapati permalink
        September 26, 2012 10:13 am

        Hopkinson has been really popular, too! I need to read her. And it’s fine to read and review books after the event to keep the excitement up – that’s the whole point, really, to get people reading and reviewing this stuff ALL YEAR LONG :-D As I know you know ;-)

      • October 15, 2012 3:09 pm

        That’s my favourite of hers, but I’ve enjoyed them all, just in different ways. I’ll look forward to your gushy review.

  2. September 25, 2012 9:45 pm

    I’m reading this one right now. I appreciate knowing what you think about it.

  3. September 26, 2012 1:42 am

    Oooh, would love to see a list on literary fantasy!
    And nice to see you back! I hope your health gets better.

  4. September 26, 2012 10:41 am

    I’ve heard a lot about this book with the majority of reviews being positive. I think it’s a brilliant concept to set a world outside the popular medieval European stage. I do like reading those too but it’s refreshing to have a change.

  5. September 26, 2012 6:57 pm

    Eek. I have very very low tolerance for torture in books (or movies or anything). So this one I think will not be for me in spite of its nice title and interesting premise.

  6. September 27, 2012 5:16 am

    I love the idea of a “straight up fantasy novel” steeped in Arab culture. As the last reviewer said, it’s great to see fantasy writers getting out of the traditional European medieval mold. I’m adding this to my list.

    I hope you’re feeling better soon. It sounds like you’re in a lot of pain.

  7. September 29, 2012 6:43 am

    Okay, so the torture thing threw me a bit, yet still I think I might give this one a go. The strong sense of place and the immersion in Arab culture make it sound pretty worthwhile alone. And I’m one of those people who doesn’t mind a fast-moving plot. So yeah, this might turn out to be quite a winner for me. Thanks Eva!

    And Eva, I so wish you could dive back in, too. Yes, because I miss your posts. But really because I just wish so very goshdarn much that you could FINALLY catch a break for a while. While I’m happy to hear the RA is behaving for the moment, I just want to cry hearing the fibro is acting up. As always, you handle it all with such grace. But I’d really give just about anything for you to have a nice long stretch of pain-freeness!!!

  8. September 30, 2012 4:43 am

    I kind of felt similarly to you – I liked this book and I felt like it was worth a shot, but I didn’t immediately add Ahmed to my must-read author list. That said, he’s just published a book of short stories and I’m hoping it delivers a bit more.

    I’m hoping you feel well enough to dive back into blogging soon!

  9. September 30, 2012 9:01 am

    This sounds like fun but I think I would have trouble with the violence, too-although I do read a lot of crime fiction so maybe it’s context, LOL :-D

  10. October 15, 2012 3:12 pm

    I’ve had this casually in mind, but am pleased to read your thoughts on it; you’ve nudged it up the list.

    I re-read Hiromi Goto’s Half World so that I could read the newer book in the series for this event; she’s a real favourite of mine and I am surprised that her works aren’t very well known (particularly in the U.S., it seems). I think you’d appreciate the anti-cookie-cutter approach that she takes to her main characters: so refreshing (and, sometimes, refreshingly disturbing).

  11. October 20, 2012 10:10 pm

    I really want to read this. I had it out from the library but my reading has sucked lately.. I need to get back to it…


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