Friday, October 18, 2013


Wow, wow, wowee. Every once in a while I come across a book that makes me just a tiny bit paranoid even as it makes me a lot glad, because I get the distinct impression that either the book was written just for me or, at the very least, that somehow the author has been keeping careful track of every grievance or pet peeve I've expressed about a genre and made sure absolutely none of that appeared in his or her novel.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is an example of the latter, a fantasy novel that partakes of so few of the tropes and tendencies that make me roll my eyes at the genre as to feel like the perfect antidote to them and to feel like the freshest thing around as a result. Which is to say its pseudo-medievality is Eastern (more specifically, Middle Eastern) rather than Western, drawing inspiration from the myths and legends of Persia and the Arab nations rather than those of the European well that has been drawn from so much as to be damned close to bone dry.

But it doesn't stop there. Saladin Ahmed was not content merely to write the Thousand and Second Arabian Nights tale, though that would have been welcome all the same. No, Ahmed went for something fresher and more interesting yet: his hero, far from being the standard obscure Orphan Who Is Secretly The Most Important Kid Like Ever, is an old man, the last of his kind with a lifetime of regrets centering mostly on all the pleasures of a normal life he sacrificed on the altar of being a hero, a fighter of ghuls, a saver of children. This is again in itself no lightning bolt of originality, but compared to the OWISTMIKLE, the hero at the end of his career, called up for one last quest, is relatively so little used as to feel extraordinarily fresh, especially when combined with a setting that is also relatively unused. And Adoulla is delightful to read, fat and funny and a bit harumphy (really, almost a male version of Aughra from The Dark Crystal)*, constantly needling his dour and devout young trainee/companion Raseed about his lack of humor and his bitterly doctrinaire outlook and his piety, and patiently trying to guide his other companion, the fierce and teenaged zoomorph Zamia, into some kind of civilized adulthood.**

It's not easy being Adoulla. And that, dear readers, is even before the plot of this novel turns him into, it almost seems, Job. Seriously, there are moments when the events that befall this guy will break your heart, if you still  have one.

So this book had my enthusiastic attention right away as it invited me to visit the city of Dhamasawaat and have a cup of fancily fragrant tea with Adoulla, amazed as ever to find that he's survived his most recent battle and ready to hang up his stack of scripture-based ghul-banishers -- until he learns of the grisly murder of much of the family of the woman he should have married when they were young (except his calling prevented this, of course), and by the hands/teeth/claws/powers of a particularly terrible ghul. The kind he's given up any chance of a normal life to fight. Well, damn. It's pretty much no fantasy novelist ever who is really going to let a guy like Adoulla actually enjoy a well-earned retirement, no? Who would want to read that? I mean, besides me, just to see what it would be like?***

But wait, there's more! Because Adoulla has other friends, a pair of magician/alchemists, an old married couple he's known since they were all young and squinty-eyed like Raseed and Zamia, and they are also awesome, especially the wife, Litaz, who is the fantastically powerful, confident and capable kind of ass-kicking female character that makes me hope her author is planning on writing a book all about her someday? Please Mr. Ahmed?

All this against a backdrop of multiple, fully realized cultures, political intrigue and, yes, dire magical threats to the realm, if not the very world. In other words, it has everything I like about fantasy and nothing I don't.

Really, I'm kind of ashamed it took me this look to get to this one, but hey, I'm a busy lady, you know?

*Which I cannot be alone in having wished could have gotten a movie all her own? Right?

**Really, one of the very most refreshing things about this novel is how it's the grizzled old hero who is tolerant and open-minded and his young companions who are hidebound and doctrinaire. This is frequently the case in life, but how often do we see it in art, eh?

***But, you know, I'm getting to be something of an old fart myself. I'm not alone in this, though, so I wonder, am I alone in kind of wanting to see what Retirement Fantasy might be like as a new sub-genre?

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