Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings … [X]

Ever since I read his short story for Rags and Bones, I’ve been wanting to read more by Saladin Ahmed. Now that I got my wish … *whiny baby voice* I want so much more of this world. Unfortunately, there really aren’t any books like this one. In the Goodreads synopsis (much of which I haven’t quoted above), they mention that Throne of the Crescent Moon had “all the magic of The Arabian Nights” and that ought to tell you how few fantasy novels aren’t Eurocentric or don’t refer heavily to Christianity or have quite the array of characters that this one does. Basically, what the synopsis tells me is there were The Arabian Nights stories in the 12th century and now we have Saladin Ahmed? What I’m leading up to is this: brace yourself because once you’ve finished Throne of the Crescent Moon you will have the book hangover of your life and you will never look at fantasy novels the same way.

Anyway, I’ll stop the whining for now. I have much to tell you about this beauty! The story follows a ghul hunter in his sixties, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, who is tiring of his work, tiring of hoping for peace and a steady life. Of course, nothing that starts with “I’m too old for this” ends with a pension exactly. As if the heavens have heard, the Doctor is asked to look into the death of someone close to the woman he has long loved. His investigation of this murder leads him and his assistant, a Dervish named Raseed, to Zamia Badawi, a young girl who can shape-shift into a lioness. They find out that her entire band, all of the Badawi, have been killed and their souls taken. Adoulla connects the murder he was investigating to the tragedy of Zamia’s people. With the dangling promise of vengeance, Zamia reluctantly follows the Adoulla and Raseed into the city of Dhamsawaat. Along with his old friends, a married couple whose magic and healing powers are invaluable, Adoulla, Raseed, and Zamia uncover a plot that utilizes twisted magical practices to overthrow the Kaliph and plunge the Kaliphate into chaos.

Fantastic fanart from Adi on Tumblr!

I can’t talk much about the plot without giving everything away (oh the struggles of a fangirl) but I can go on and on about the characters! I mean, such a wonderful cast of people! We have Adoulla whose profession is taking a toll on his heart and body, but who is unfailingly kind and a jovial tease. We have his assistant Raseed, whose self-discipline and rigid interpretation of scriptures conflict with the injustices he sees around him, whose romantic struggles define him as much as his bravery does. We have Zamia, a girl who bore a heavy burden when her people were alive and bears a heavier burden still now that she is the only one left. We have Litaz and Dawoud a couple who have seen the worst of Dhamsawaat, and still, for the sake of their friendship with Adoulla, help as best they can to save a city that isn’t theirs. We have Miri, a sex worker that Adoulla has loved for years, who is incredibly smart and incredibly well-informed, who may well love Adoulla back but knows that as long as he is a ghul hunter he cannot give her the life she wants. We even have a charming rogue character in The Falcon Prince, a man of the people, stirring up a rebellion against the Khalif. The list goes on and one. Even the baddies are pretty unique. And so creepy! Every shift in perspective is skillfully done (in case you were concerned, Nafiza!) and each character’s POV is a delight to read.

Speaking of reading, the other awesome thing about Ahmed’s novel (surprise, surprise) is the writing. There isn’t a single wasted word or sentence. Everything, everything serves the purpose of showing you something: the crowded Dhamsawaat streets, the delicious feasts to celebrate, the history of a relationship, the inner workings of the Falcon Prince’s band of thieves, the injustices endured by the people … I don’t know if Ahmed based his city on any one place, but for me, personally, I’ve never missed Muscat quite as much– which is funny because I always leave Vancouver to visit my parents with great reluctance. A book that transforms the landscape of your memory is, IMHO, a very well-written one.

Basically, if you love:

  • fantasy
  • fantasy without gratuitous gore/violence/sexuality
  • wonderful complex characters
  • superb world-building
  • unexpected fart jokes

PICK THIS ONE UP ASAP! You won’t be disappointed. 🙂

Now that I’m done fangirling, I need to talk to you guys about Something Very Important: chai. In the book, we often have Adoulla drinking cardamom tea. In fact, that’s really all he wants: to retire, to marry Miri, and have some goddamn tea. I’ve seen a few fans post their recipes for the tea and look, I can’t resist, I’m my father’s daughter, so here’s another version, okay?

Adrak-Elaichi Chai

serves two

Ingredients:

  • Milk — 1/4 cup
  • Water — 2 cups
  • Sugar — 1 1/5 tsp for each cup (or however much/little you prefer)
  • Cardamom– 3 pods
  • Ginger — my Dad doesn’t measure this stuff, I’d say about the length and width of your index and middle fingers together?
  • Black tea (we’re not fancy at home, and neither are tea stalls typically, so go for the tea powder) — 3-4 tbsp, depending on how strong you want your tea. You could just just do what I do and add 4 tbsp and add some extra milk if I feel like I need it?

Note: Feel free to play around with the proportions of ginger and cardamom. I don’t love straight cardamom tea, so I chose to add the ginger.

Directions:

  • Use a mortar and pestle to go Hulk mode on the chopped ginger and cardamom pods.
  • In a saucepan, bring water and milk to boil.
  • Add ginger and cardamom to the saucepan.
  • Reduce to simmer. Stir. Bring to a boil once more.
  • Add tea leaves. Stir.
  • Leave it boiling for another minute. The colour should be an orangish-brown.
  • Add sugar to the cups.
  • Remove from tea from heat.
  • Don’t forget to filter before you pour the tea into the cups.
  • Stir well and enjoy.
  • Janet

    I am reading this (you had me convinced from the first sentence) and we are making this cardamom chai, okay?

    • Yash

      Sounds like a fun plan! Email me when you’re next free to hang out! ^_^

  • Sounds interesting, I will have to check my library for it! In terms of non-Christian mythology/fantasy, have you read *The Golem and the Jinni* by Helene Wecker? It has a focus on Jewish and Arabic folklore/legends and I enjoyed it a lot.

    • Yash

      I’ve heard of The Golem and the Jinni! Thanks for reminding me to put it on my TBR. Cheers.

  • TEA RECIPES!!!! Oh I love them. And tea. And making new tea. And yum. (Also this straight up sounds amazing and please oh please let my library have a copy!)

    • Yash

      Let me know if you ever make this tea and if you like it? (And I hope your library does have a copy! Happy reading!)

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  • elizabeth

    Janny Wurts traveled to Korea for inspiration for Daughter of the Empire, a non-Eurocentric fantasy novel by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts. Disclaimer: The Empire Trilogy is my all time super fav-tastic LOVE IT with all my heart! I’m enjoying Throne of the Crescent Moon, thanks for the tip. 🙂