“Dhamsawatt, King of Cities, Jewel of Abassen
A thousand thousand men pass through and pass in
Packed patchwork of avenues, alleys, and walks
Such bookshops and brothels, such schools and stalls
I’ve wed all your streets, made your night air my wife
For he who tires of Dhamsawaat tires of life”
This is the home of the protagonist of our story: Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, and he is the last “real” ghul hunter in the city, though there are always charlatans about who prey on the ignorant. However, Adoulla is getting old; his desire to continually risk his life destroying heart eating ghuls and other magical monsters waning as his years lengthen. Indeed, he finds that now his heart’s desire lies in the comfort of his beloved city, his simple house, the familiarity of his books, the soothing taste of his favorite tea, and a desire to settle down with the love of his life – a woman who adores him but despises his ghul hunting ways.
No matter his desires, there is horrible trouble brewing. Adoulla feels it within his soul. A terrible evil is stalking his beloved Dhamsawatt. That is why he continues to have the nightmares. Dreams where he finds himself walking through “streets, waist high in a river of blood . . . Everything tinted red – the color of the Traitorous Angel . . . And all about him the people of Dhamsawatt dead and disemboweled.”
With such horrid visions haunting his sleep, how can Adoulla do anything but continue his ghul hunting. Who would replace him?
Not his young assistant Raseed bas Raseed. No, that young holy man and warrior might be a devote follower of the Almighty God and an expert swordsman, but he lacks both the desire and the training to replace Adoulla. Though the doctor can admit, at least to himself, that the boy is helpful beyond measure and has even saved his life more than a few times.
The only others who have ever shared Adoulla’s path in life are his neighbors and fast friends, Dawoud, a weaver of spells, and his wife, Litaz, expert of the art of alkhemy. They have aided him time and time again, shared his hardships and triumphs over horrendous foes, and suffered personal losses greater than he could ever understand. Yet they have their own life, and Litaz tires of Dhamsawatt, wishing to return to their homeland far to the west and south.
Alas, if anyone must face this horrid ghul apocalypse, it has fallen to Adoulla – though he feels too old and must call upon his friends to aid him.
This is how Throne of the Crescent Moon begins. Great setup for a story! (And did I mention how awesome that cover was?) Well, between that cover and this beginning, I really thought this would be an interesting read. But as I kept flipping the pages, I kept missing something. Something I assumed was my fault for not seeing, but as I tried harder to locate it, it became painfully obvious the author had not included it in this novel.
What was missing you ask?
A sense of urgency.
To me a story is a multi-faceted thing. It needs an interesting plot (several of them is better), well-rounded characters, good magic system (in a fantasy book), and a sense of urgency to make me care what is going on. One is just as important as the other, but there MUST be urgency. This urgency can be numerous things: war, political intrigue, environment disaster, zombie apocalypse, et cetera. It doesn’t really matter as long as a reader I feel like I’m caught up in a wave of events that is propelling me forward through the pages, making me desire to keep reading to see how it all ends. If I do not feel any urgency, chances are I’m not really “into” the book.
As I read along with Throne of the Crescent Moon, I was never swept up in events. How could I be when the characters themselves were so apathetic about the whole ghul apocalypse. Honestly, our protagonist, Adoulla, is having these horrid nightmares, but he spends paragraph after paragraph filled with concerns about getting too old for all this, his love of tea, his comfortable home, and his desire to reignite a relationship with his lady love. All these things seemed more important to him than actually stopping this massive threat of genocide.
If the ghul apocalypse is so horrible, why isn’t our hero frantically trying to find the way to stop it instead of drinking tea?
Who knows. But Adoulla isn’t. Nor his assistant Raseed. Nor Dawoud. Nor Litaz. Not even Zamia, whose whole tribe has been killed by this monster. Nope, they methodically go about their personal lives. They take time to have tea, celebrate a feast, visit old lovers to reignite past relationships, are love sick over one another, and generally act as if there is no sense of urgency to anything. I mean, it is just a ghul apocalypse. Guess they deal with this sort of thing all the time. No need to get help. Naw, they got this. Just go home and drink some more tea, good citizens.
This lack of urgency was even present in the fight scenes – the few there were. Let me give an example. At one point, Litaz and Zamia get in an altercation with some religious fanatics, and they begin to argue, setting up the fight to come. Here is an excerpt from this big “altercation.”
“Suri,” Litaz repeated. “A beautiful name. And very, very old.” She turned to the Students with a clearly forced smile. “Surely you brothers see the sign from Almighty God here? The Heavenly Chapters’ story of Suri says “O Headsman, drop your sword and serve His mercy! O Flogger, drop your whip and serve His mercy!’”
The gray-haired Student spread a conciliatory hand, but he sneered as he did so. “The Chapters also say ‘And yea, proper punishment is the sweetest mercy,’ do they not? A new era is coming, outlander? An era when only those who walk the path prescribed will prosper.”
You can feel the adrenaline pumping in this altercation, can’t you?
In that excerpt, you probably also noticed that there was a good bit of scripture quoting. This is the norm, not the exception in this novel. In fact, the characters are quoting holy scriptures all the time, no matter what the situation. Now, I agree this quoting of holy scripture was part of the characters’ cultures, but it became too repetitive, reading as filler material after a while. Can’t explain my dislike other than to say it was just distracting.
I did finish this book, but I did so more out of a need for completion than any desire to see how the “story” ended. The focus of the novel seemed to be the people and the city, so eventually, I tried to just get to know them instead of looking for a grand storyline. After I did that, the reading became easier, because Adoulla, Baseer, Zamia, Damoud, and Latiz became real people to me. I knew about their likes and dislikes, their dreams and regrets, and even their personal habits – Adoulla liked tea very much. And by the end, I felt as if I had lived a few days with them in glorious Dhamsawaat, which was okay. I suppose I focused on the journey and not the destination.
Now, this Saladin Ahmed’s novel will not go on my favorite list, but I do not regret reading it. It was a close call with me if this was a 2 star or 3 star book, but since I can’t see myself ever rereading it, I went for 2. I personally like more epic stories with lots of action or suspense, and if you feel the same, I doubt you will find this book enjoyable. However, if you can read it just for the characters, it might be right up your alley.
Buy Throne of the Crescent Moon (Crescent Moon Kingdoms Book 1) at Amazon.