Adoulla is a ghul-hunter. For years he has battled ghuls and demons, protecting the citizens of Dhamsawaat and the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. Just when he is thinking of retiring, he hears news of a strange and gruesome murder in the family of the woman he loves. As he and his assistant, the dervish Raseed, investigate, it becomes clear that they are up against an opponent stronger than any that came before. The murder is only the most recent in a series, including the whole tribe of Zamia Badawi, who has the power of the Lion-Shape. As the three attempt to track and destroy the man controlling the ghuls, Dhamsawaat itself is caught in a battle of wills between the despotic Khalif and the 'Falcon Prince', a man who claims to fight on behalf of the poor. As the final battle draws closer, the city is immersed in civil war.
I read Throne of the Crescent Moon for Aarti's A More Diverse Universe event, in which readers try speculative fiction written by people of colour. I love fantasy but the settings can get a bit repetitive after a while, so it was refreshing to pick up a book like this, that takes more from A Thousand and One Nights than it does Medieval Europe. In fact, the setting was my absolute favourite part of the book; Ahmed has taken all of the mystic elements from stories like Aladdin and created a world that is full of ghuls, burning sand, teashops, white robed holy men, curved swords, overly zealous religious police and silks. I honestly wanted to dive right into the book and explore Ahmed's world, I've never read a fantasy book quite like this.
The overall plot was a traditional fantasy one of overcoming evil with magic and fighting. I enjoyed the main characters of Adoulla and Raseed, although Zamia felt a bit like a stereotype of a fierce, strong woman rather than a complex character in her own right. I would liked to have seen a different side to her, more vulnerability or uncertainty. On the other hand, the Falcon Prince had a lot of moral ambiguity that was exploited particularly at the end of the novel, and this made it much stronger.
I'm sitting here trying to work out why I didn't love everything about this book and I think it's because the world was so magical and wonderful that the plot was always going to fall slightly short. At times the pacing of the story seemed a bit off and there wasn't any real urgency until the final battle scenes. But it's still a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, one that I escaped in and one that completely captured my imagination.
Check out other books reviewed for the event here.
First Published: 2012
Edition Read: Gollancz, 2013
Score: 4 out of 5