But Throne of the Crescent Moon is so much more than that, in fact it is a quite lovely take on classic old Sword & Sorcery.
Saladin Ahmed has managed to create something new and entirely enticing with his characters Adoulla Makhslood and Raseed bas Raseed that works with the same dynamics as those which (at least my own) Grand Master of the Sword & Sorcery genre, Fritz Leiber, managed to create with his characters Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
The pair of world-weary Doctor and fiercely devout Dervish does well in giving a varied viewpoint of the story as it progresses. Their dynamics, though lacking some of Leiber's pairing's humorous moments, are encouraging enough. The backstory, the unfolding plot in the middle of threatening civil war as well as the eerie nemesis of the great Doctor are done admirably and I found myself having a real difficulty putting the book down, even with family calling from the pool.
Ahmed does really well in keeping the tone light-hearted enough in places but with dread overbearing in the presentation of the sinister characters and their bloody plans for the city of Dhamsawaat. While the ages old nemesis might feel like it's been done to death I would say Saladin Ahmed has done admirably in breathing new life into this old cliché as well. But I particularly liked the evil side-kick that is Mouw Awa, the manjackal, with a brilliant madness and fleshed out evil backstory.
The box opened in a painful blaze of light. The gaunt man in the filthy kaftan appeared before him. Beside the gaunt man stood his servant, that thing—part shadow, part jackal, part cruel man—that called itself Mouw Awa. The guardsman screamed. As always the gaunt man said nothing. But the shadow-thing’s voice echoed in the guardsman’s head.The book begins as a murder mystery story where the Doctor and the Dervish is compelled to investigate the murders of a family out in the marshes outside the great city. Adoulla, being the last great Ghul-slayer, is sought out by an old lover's nephew who was witness to the ghuls even as he is contemplating his retirement from what he concistently calls a young man's fight. They hunt for traces of the man behind the ghuls, a magician of sufficient strength to make Adoulla genuinely scared for the future of his city. They are joined by another sidekick as the story unfolds. Zamia Banu Laith Badawi is a lion-spirit shapeshifter who acted as the Protector of her band, when they were slain by an ally of the man creating the ghuls stalking the city.
Listen to Mouw Awa, who speaketh for his blessed friend. Thou art an honored guardsman. Begat and born in the Crescent Moon Palace. Thou art sworn in the name of God to defend it. All of those beneath thee shall serve.
Zamia and Raseed serve as the muscle behind the Doctor's magic, depicted wonderfully and mysteriously in flashes of light and potency, which drains him thouroughly once he uses it.
There's a mythos behind the lion shape that ties Zamia's mission to Adoulla and Raseed's, they are all tools of God and the Ministering Angels in their war against the Traitorous Angel and its evil servants.
There are several further memorable characters of the cast, among them the Falcon Prince in open rebellion against the despotic Khalif secluded in his palace. We see the old couple of Litaz and Dawoud, alchemist and magician, who are previous partners of Adoulla though now retired in the city. As the story unfolds Adoulla and his now two side-kicks must call on the help of the old pair as the evil opposing them is too great.
Towards the end of the book events unfold at a rapid pace with Pharaad az Hammaz, the Falcon Prince, planning an attack on the Khalif's palace which conincides with the revelation of the power and legacy of the Throne of the Crescent Moon/The Cobra Throne amid the emergence of the Doctor's true nemesis, who is the master of Mouw Awa and a prolific servant of the Traitorous Angel. Everything seems to happen at once. I was a bit amazed at Saladin Ahmed's willingness to conclude the plot so quickly and with mostly everything wrapped up, but it definitely left a thirst for more even as you struggled to put into place everything that happened.
For me Saladin Ahmed's novel debut was a very good read and gave a much needed gust of fresh air into the Sword & Sorcery and Adventure sub-genre. I'm looking forward to seeing the second book in the series, which will hopefully build onto this debut and further add to the scope of Ahmed's vision.
READSTER MAGNITUDE SCALE: 6.7
REMINDS ME OF: Ill Met in Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber in it's engrossing depiction of a sprawling city just waiting to be explored by vivid adventurers and a plot that although light-hearted in nature delivers on the suspense and well-developed characters.
Sung in Blood by Glen Cook in that there are conspiracies within conspiracies as the fate of a city is determined not just by what is contested in the opening but also in mysteries slowly revealed along the way.