Imagine The Arabian Nights starring Iroh of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and you’ll have a sense of what Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel is like. Throne of the Crescent Moon is one of the strongest debut novels I’ve read and will likely be a serious contender in any “Best Debut” list for this year.
Throne of the Crescent Moon follows the story of Doctor Adoulla Makshlood, the last of the true ghul hunters in the great city of Dhamsawaat. On the verge of retiring, Adoulla is forced away from his hopes and plans when he and his assistant learn of a series of grisly murders and rumors of a sinister conspiracy. Adoulla’s investigations lead him outside the city with his assistant Raseed bas Raseed, a young member of an order of holy warriors. There, they are set upon and nearly overwhelmed by a band of powerful ghuls. They only survive the encounter due to the aid of a young woman able to take the form of a lioness, Zamia Badawai, whose entire tribe was slaughtered by the ghuls. Adoulla takes Zamia under his wing, and together the three of them must unravel the mystery surrounding the Throne of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms before it’s too late.
As previously stated, the main character, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, initially reminded me of Iroh from the 2005-2008 television series Avatar: The Last Airbender. As the story progressed, I had to revise my thoughts on the character to “Iroh, if Avatar: The Last Airbender had been a more adult show.” One of the more interesting and unique things about Adoulla as a main character is that he is over sixty years old—and isn’t part of a culture where such longevity is common. He is a very, very human character, subject to the aches and pains of extensive experience and the wear and tear of the years.
Adoulla’s assistant, Raseed, is a sixteen-year-old boy who is part of an order of holy warriors. He is prideful, and many of Adoulla’s quirks go against his training of absolute purity. Prone seeing only surface value, Raseed is quick to judge and does not discriminate between friend and foe in his quest to bring justice, with intentions mattering very little in his logic. Things become very entertaining once Zamia joins the group since is an inherent attraction between them—as young people are prone to have.
Zamia Badawai, the young woman able to take the form of a lioness, is not the exiled beautiful princess popularized by adapted fairy tales and children’s movies. In fact, her plain features are emphasized by the author, as well as used as a source of conflict within her character. Also, the tension between Zamia and Raseed is highly entertaining to read, as it takes on a variety of forms.
The prose flows ever on and on
While the premise and characters were definitely strong points of Throne of the Crescent Moon, the true strength of the novel lies in Ahmed’s ability to craft a story. The atmosphere of the novel lends and adapts itself to every scene, evolving as the story develops. Ahmed’s writing also finds that balance between giving the reader too much information and leaving too much to the reader’s imagination, something that I distinctly enjoy. Combine these elements with his character work, and Ahmed’s debut novel becomes a masterful work of worldbuilding and storytelling.
My one qualm with his writing comes not from any fault on the author’s end, but rather from my own personal biases; I am a comma junkie, and many of Ahmed’s sentences give me pause. However, in every case, the sentences were grammatically correct either with or without commas. Once I got used to Ahmed’s style of writing, it became a moot point—especially once the story really started picking up steam. Just a word of warning to any fellow comma junkies out there.
A mesmerizing world
In Throne of the Crescent Moon, Ahmed crafts a detailed world with a sense of history. The lands of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms are part of a deeply immersive world with believable history, characters, and places. The map provided in the novel complements the novel in many ways, both stylistically and informationally. Taken together, Throne of Crescent Moon creates a fantastic world that I look forward to visiting again and again.
Why should you read this book?
As debut novels go, this might well be the strongest I have read to date. Saladin Ahmed has created a fantastic debut novel with a gorgeous world and fantastic characters. But the main reason you should read this novel is Ahmed’s sheer capacity for storytelling. Available on February 7, Throne of the Crescent Moon is a novel any fantasy enthusiast should not miss.
Garrett received a review copy of Throne of the Crescent Moon courtesy of DAW.