Somewhere in the last few months I read a blog post by an experienced author where he said that a book should be judged by whether it does what the author intended. All books should entertain or inform and should avoid boring the reader, so that goes as a given. But beyond that a book shouldn’t be judged by comparing it to the reader’s expectations, rather by whether the writer’s intent was realized. It is with this in mind that I’m reviewing Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.
But first, qualifications. I have none. I write software for a living. I love to read and I especially love to read fantasy and science fiction. I write some, too, for what it’s worth. I’m just a reader that also has a humble pulpit.
What I Liked
The Setting. The author had a blurb on John Scalzi’s blog where he talked about wanting to put the Middle Eastern setting at the center of his story. He did. And it was great. At times I thought I could smell Dhamsawaat. He painted a picture with enough little details that I was able to fill in the larger swaths in my imagination.
The heroes. Adoulla, Litaz and Dawoud were all interesting and had enough backstory to make me care about what happened to them. Does Adoulla give up the kaftan and live happily ever after? I hope so. Do Litaz and Dawoud go on to a quiet life in the Soo Republic? They should; they deserve it.
The villains. Mouw Awa the manjackal is a wonderful villain. Honestly, he’s one of my favorite villains in recent memory. He’s a horrible, horrible creature that’s untouchable by sword or magic. And on top of that he toys with his victims like some kind of man sized demonic cat.
The Falcon Prince is hard to pin down as his role changes with the story. He isn’t as well developed as I’d like, but he’s some kind of mashup of Robin Hood and Aladdin and Superman. I hope he features prominently in the sequel.
The hook. The interludes with the captured guardsman were brutal and terrifying and they took me by the cheek and dragged me wriggling through the story. The prelude in particular was great. It gave me setting and raised questions and just worked.
The prose. It was good. The author has a clear, highly readable voice, may it please All-Merciful God.
What I Didn’t Like
My momma taught me that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Writing a novel of my own and getting very little feedback taught me that you can’t improve what you don’t know is broken.
The story was boring for the middle 70%. The hook was solid, the fight scene where Zamia was introduced was excellent and first encounter with Mouw Awa left me wanting more, but the book never returned to that peak. The try/fail cycles just didn’t feel like they had tension. Raseed had a little tangle with the Falcon Prince and Litaz had a little tangle with the city watch, but neither really upped the stakes any.
The love story was boring. I don’t think it could have been cut since we needed to see Raseed’s inner conflict to get an idea of who he was, but… no, it could have been cut. Raseed’s inner conflict was boring. I never really cared about Raseed or Zamia. If there’s going to a prominent inner conflict, I need to really give a damn about the character.
The Falcon Prince seemed all powerful. Characters are compelling because of things they CAN’T do, not just because of what they can. He seemed to be a paragon of Robin Hood virtue with no weakness. I know I said I liked him, and I did like him, but it he just seemed like he could have been even more compelling.
The ending. The throne rising up out of the ground with no forewarning? It felt contrived and out of the blue. Overall, the climax didn’t feel like it reached the same level as the opening battles. It seemed too easy. The premise of the resolution was fine, just the execution left me wanting.
I liked the book. You, dear reader, should read it. The things it does well far outweigh the things I thought it got wrong. I will absolutely buy and read future works from the author.