Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon is the debut novel from Saladin Ahmed, who has been a finalist for both the Nebula and Campbell awards. It was released February 7th, 2012 by DAW books.

The Blurb

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, Khalifs and killers, is on the brink of civil war. To make things worse, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. And it’s up to Doctor Adoulla Makhslood to solve them.

“The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” Adoulla just wants a quiet cup of tea. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, he is drawn back to the hunter’s path. Recruiting old companions and new, Adoulla races against time–and struggles against his own misgivings–to discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin. [On Goodreads]

The Review

Y’know. I had this whole 2,000 word review all typed up where I ranted about a review of this book that, essentially, called it misogynistic and shit writing. But I don’t feel like editing that crazy rage-fest.

So here’s what I’ll say instead: that review was wrong. So very, very wrong. I admit, there was one moment while reading this book where I had a fly-off-the-handle-feminist moment. Then, I took a step back, a deep breath, and realized that one stray thought by a character balanced against the incredible ass-kicking action of all the females in this book makes my initial knee-jerk invalid.

Does this novel fail the Bechdel test? Erm. Without double checking to be 100% sure, I’m gonna say – yeah, it does. Are there about a bajillion other fantasy novels out there that are also Bechdel fails but that are just as worthy of a read? Also yep.

So why read this one? Because it’s worthy in a different way. Ditch your European-grown fantasy roots and saddle up for something a little more “birthplace of civilization” flavored. Did I fall in love with this novel? I have to admit that, no, I didn’t. Did I enjoy it? Yep, quite thoroughly actually and I found it completely worth the time I invested in it.

There’s just one piece of my rage-fest rant that I have to relate here. One of the beefs the review I read had (and to which I am not going to link to here) was that one of the main female characters is a sort of were-lion and her powers are inaccessible to her during menses. So, of course, there was a bit of feminist rage about “OMG why does she have to be powerless three days out of the month simply because she’s a woman that’s so misogynistic!!!1!one” (paraphrasing, not a direct quote).

To which I say:

1) Traditional mythology, fable, and even other fantasy books all have tons of references  to a woman’s power being tied to her menstrual cycle. This is not new, and ranting simply because a MAN dared to use it as a plot device is, frankly, in my opinion very silly.

2) Why do we even have to look at it as “She’s being stripped of her power for being a woman!” at all? For one: her power is being limited, which can only be a good thing. She is still a bad-ass, shape-shifting lion who kicks ALL KIND OF ASS during all the crazy fight scenes. (Seriously – super exciting fight scenes!) Remember “absolute power corrupts absolutely”? How about, “unlimited power makes for a boring fucking character”? (Hm. Sounds like something Chuck Wendig would say, but I digress.) Her power is being limited in a way that not only makes sense within the confines of the world, but it’s being done in such a manner that she’s forced to look at the world not as an animal but as a human being and, yes, a woman. Which brings me to my next point…

3) Why is it okay for other fantasy writers (even men) to write werewolves as creatures who are tied to the same sort of lunar cycle but not in this case? Because this author came right out and tied it to menses instead of being coy about it? Honestly, I’d rather have it this way. At least it gives some sort of vaguely scientific reasoning – more so than “the moon made her turn into a monster!”.

Creating a strong feminine character doesn’t mean stripping her of everything that makes her a woman. In fact, that’s quite the opposite. I see the author here creating a character who, while being constrained by the fact that yes, she is actually female, works within those limitations to become that much more powerful. Which is how it works in real life, isn’t it?

Bottom line: do you want another cookie-cutter, leather-wearing, bed-hopping Bond knock-off with an X chromosome or would you like to maybe see an actual girl dealing with all the things a girl has to deal with? Which includes, for those unwilling to face it (both in fantasy reviews and in modern politics!), menstruation and thinking about child-bearing.

Argh. I swore I wouldn’t rant, and I did it anyway.

One of my favorite things about this book is that our heroes are mostly old people (there are a couple of young ones, a displaced youth and an apprentice, but they are rash and young and smartly idiotic in the way that only teenagers really can be). It’s refreshing to see a fantasy that ISN’T a coming-of-age story. Our hero, Adoulla, is around sixty and world-weary and feeling ready for his long-overdue  (at least in his opinion) dirt-nap when we meet him. There is a charm to the elderly in that they are fearless and unafraid of looking foolish (whether it is being overly sentimental about worldly possessions or absurdly proud of their own flatulence). This book captures that perfectly, and I hope to have 1/10th the sass at that age that any of these characters do.

Just read this book. Especially if you enjoy unique fantasy settings, such as N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or Brandon Sanderson’s A Way of Kings. It’s worth it, and it’s a fraction of the size of other door-stopper fantasies written by the likes of Rothfuss, Jordan, Sanderson, et al. You can read it in a weekend, form your own opinion, and wedge your mind open just the tiniest of fractions. It’ll be good for you. But don’t take it from me. Read the damned book already and stop taking advice from opinionated strangers on the internet!