Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed

It's been a long time since I've read a book that was pure fantasy but, since the last book I read was a somewhat depressing work of literary historical fiction and I'm also reading the Dickensian epic that is Charles Palliser's The Quincunx, I needed something that was pure action as a palate cleanser.

Throne of the Crescent Moon
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood has been a ghul hunter for decades. He's getting too old for this shit. His young assistant, a dervish named Raseed, helps with the fighting but wearies him with his rigid piety. Makhslood would have retired long ago if there were anyone to turn the reins over to, but he's the last honest ghul hunter. Naturally, this is when he stumbles across the biggest evil he's ever encountered. Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon is a fast ride from the very beginning. If Adoulla doesn't have a moment to catch his breath, then neither do you.

It begins with a call for help from the love of Adoulla's life. Then it escalates when Adoulla and Raseed find the sole survivor of a desert tribe looking for revenge. It eventually turns out to be a terrible plot to gain the Khalif's throne. Along the way, there's magic and alkhemists and shapechangers and corruption and virtue and heroism.

The plot of Throne of the Crescent Moon is simple enough to explain, but what made this book such an interesting read for me was the richly described world Ahmed creates. Unlike most fantasy novels, which are grounded firmly in medieval European-like settings, Throne of the Crescent Moon is distinctly influenced by Islam and the Middle East. God has a thousand names and business is only discussed after lots of pleasantries. Not only does Ahmed use this inspiration to create a refreshingly different setting, he uses it to give his characters (especially) Raseed a lot of room to grow as characters. This is an action novel, but it's got some soul, too.

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