#CBR5 Maneuver #4 – Throne of the Crescent Moon
Summary: From the back cover, “The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings.
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.
When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time—and struggle against their own misgivings—to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.”
After Action Report:
I don’t understand io9.com’s criterion for good fantasy. Between their three-year-long campaign for the mediocre novels of N. K. Jemisin and their unceasing steampunk fetish, it’s gotten hard to take their recommendations seriously. Yes, they still put up the odd Alistair Reynolds or Ken MacLeod, but I suspect that’s just to keep us coming back. And then they put Throne of the Crescent Moon on their ‘Best of 2012’ list. Now, any long-time readers will know that I am pretty skeptical of any recommendation, so why would this one be noteworthy? I don’t have a good answer, but it really bugs me that a list that includes the phenomenal The Long Earth and the well-received Red Shirts could also include this slug of a novel.
When I say slug, I’m referring to pacing. Throne of the Crescent Moon has everything needed to be a standout fantasy book, but the story is so bogged down with descriptive text that the action feels like molasses. Don’t even ask about the exposition. It is actually quite sad, as the setting has a lot going for it. The characters are pretty interesting, if oddly gifted with near-perfect empathy, and the plot isn’t the completely boring re-tread it easily could have been.
Throne of the Crescent Moon is set in a fantasy version of pre-Crusades Arabia. It is heavily influenced by the fusion of desert-tribe superstitions and Islamic faith that we see in Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights. Adoulla, the central protagonist, is an aging exorcist who specializes in the elimination of undead ghuls. He is a devout man, and one who derives his power through faith, but he is also getting too old to do the work. With him is his assistant, a holy Dervish named Raseed. When the two are confronted by a new evil of spectacular power, they are forced to turn to old and new allies to save the city of Dhamsawaat, both from itself and from the evil growing in its heart.
I am a little torn here because there is a serious dearth of good, non-eurocentric fantasy, and while Throne is Middle Eastern in tone and setting, it is far from good. The core issue is one of showing and telling. I never really got the point of that old writing truism before reading this book. Now, I can definitely see the problem with too much ‘telling’ language. Every page is laden with extraneous description of the following: the PoV character’s internal thought process; the PoV character’s observations of the rest of the cast; out of place recaps of recently completed action; tongue-in-cheek reminders that the book is being told from multiple points of view.
For example, in the final chapters of the book, during the last major fight scene, a critical moment in the flow of battle is described from the point of view of three different characters. As the first PoV finishes, we slip to the second perspective only to get a third person recap of the events of the first character, and so on. In another section, a character goes to great lengths to remark that Raseed had a little adventure on his own that none of the other characters could possibly know anything about, while simultaneously noting Raseed’s suspicious behavior that he would have no reason to notice. And the entire cast seems to be able to instantly assess and provide commentary on the complete emotional state of every other protagonist with little more than a glance.
It is almost as if Ahmed had never written a book from multiple perspectives before and never bothered to establish a continuous narrative. I am willing to admit that I might be reacting badly to some sort of cultural writing style that Ahmed has adopted to better capture the feel of the setting. If so, it isn’t translating well into English. If not, the author needs to do a better job of keeping everyone on the same page, if only to keep the story moving forward, rather than jerking around every time the perspective changes.
About the only thing to recommend here is the setting, which is still somewhat lackluster. Presented with a huge wealth of magical phenomenon from the breadth of Middle Eastern mythos, Ahmed has utilized the barest minimum of a magic system and protagonists that have no abilities exclusively rooted in Arabic lore. Even Adoulla, the ‘Islamic’ exorcist, barely has any real flavor. Some aspects of the everyday lives of the characters are handled better, but there’s very little interesting world building happening here.
There definitely needs to be more non-eurocentric fantasy out there. I love digging into Japanese and Chinese folklore to come up with story ideas and seeds of magic systems. While the Crescent Moon Kingdom might be a step in the right direction, it is a poorly executed step at best. We need more in the vein of Legend of the Burning Sands, a pen-and-paper RPG set in an Arabian analogue, rich with the folklore and magic of that culture. I’m going to try to broaden my horizons a bit this year and open up to some non-Caucasian fantasies, but for now, all I can really say is don’t bother with Throne of the Crescent Moon.