Friday, September 28, 2012

Guest Musings: Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon
Some of you may remember my friend Sudha from the cameos she has made here on BookLust in joint reviews.  She's one of my closest friends and one of the very few people in real-life with whom I can discuss books in great detail.  And, luckily for all of us, she participated in A More Diverse Universe!  Below are her thoughts on Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon.  As you can see, she is a pretty awesome reviewer.  I think she should create her own blog, don't you?

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Have you ever had that delicious anticipation about some new and groundbreaking forthcoming novel that was going to hit your reading sweet spot, like it was written just for you? One that would combine great writing with exciting new plot devices, that you would devour and then tell all of your friends to read as soon as possible?

Needless to say, I have had this feeling about many books. Not all of those books have lived up to my expectations. While I do think this feeling has sometimes ruined a perfectly fine book for me, I do not believe that this expectation is the only thing that gets in the way my enjoyment of them. Sometimes, it really is the sad fact that the book is simply not as well written, as well plotted, or as interesting as I had hoped. Unfortunately, I think Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon is one of the books that was simply unable to live up to my anticipation.

Here’s the thing: it is not a totally horrible, unreadable piece of trash. On the contrary, it is a fairly well-constructed sword and sorcery story that is set apart from the ordinary by its unique setting. The "Arabian Nights”/medieval Arab fantasy world that Ahmed creates is a beautifully realized background to the story. I got completely swept up by the city of Dhamasaawat, with its crowded bazaars, oddly peaceful teashops (with delicious descriptions of food), and Islamicate architecture. Ahmed did a wonderful job making this a living, breathing city. In fact, I would say that Dhamasaawat is the book’s most complete and intriguing character.

The reader is introduced to the city through the eyes of Doctor Adoulla Makslood, the city’s last ghul hunter, who is old, tired, and simply wants to settle down and leave the fighting of monsters to the young. His apprentice, Rasheed, is more than ready for that task, but is hampered by his black and white view of the world (which becomes EXTREMELY tiresome, to both the reader and Adoulla). During a particularly close encounter with horrible ghuls (monsters that can be raised by human magicians), they run into Zamia Badawi, a shapeshifter who has lost her whole tribal band due to the ghuls. They team up with Adoulla’s old friends, Litaz and Dawoud, to contend with the rising wave of evil that threatens to consume their beloved Dhamsaawat. Clearly, the plot isn’t the most original one ever; but I found some comfort in the predictable turns of the story.

Unfortunately, while Ahmed does a great job in building this city, he fails when writing his female characters. Litaz is treated the most realistically, as a learned alchemist and an all-around normal middle-aged woman who uses her considerable life experience to help fight evil. But even she needs to be put into a “girly” box, taking a lot of plot time to talk about her withered hopes of motherhood and the death of her only child. Her husband, Dawoud, later has a full chapter on his own and only touches on his child’s death once. The most ridiculous quote from Litaz, though, is not related to motherhood. She gets into a fight with some street bullies and is punched, which results in the following:
“Stars of red light and burning tears filled her eyes, and blood flowed from her nose. She was a woman. God had not made her body for this.”
Really? God made her body for the pain of childbirth, but not the pain of being punched in the face?  Also, I think anyone, male or female, would react like this upon being punched in the face.

I looked forward to reading about Zamia at first, wanting to know more about this teenaged
shapeshifter who can fight in the form of a lioness. But sure enough, Ahmed seemed to feel the need to put Zamia into that girly box by immediately making her boy crazy; making her power to shapeshift limited to when she is not on her period; and writing her as always in tears. While she is a fifteen-year-old girl who has recently lost her whole family and her home, she is a strong and powerful being that realistically would not tear up ALL THE TIME.

However, neither Zamia nor Litaz is a prostitute with a heart of gold. That clich├ęd and tired role goes to Adoulla’s ex-paramour Miri, who harps on Adoulla for not quitting the monster hunting business to marry her. Miri’s scene with Adoulla nearly made me stop reading the book. While I do find comfort in the familiar turns of an adventure story, tired female tropes like heart of gold hookers and maiden/mother/crone stuff will make me want to stop reading immediately.

Saladin Ahmed’s book may not have lived up to my hopes. However, I hope he continues his work and is able to transfer his excellence in worldbuilding to his writing and female characters. I will certainly watch for more from him.

This review is posted as part of the A More Diverse Universe tour.


8 comments:

  1. wow that sounds like a really amazing book and the cover is just mindblowing!

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  2. 'making her power to shapeshift limited to when she is not on her period' - wut iz dis?

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  3. Hahah, great review Sudha! Prostitutes always feature so prominently in fantasy - it seems regardless of the world...WHY???

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  4. Ugh, I don't think I could make it through the book if that's what the female characters are like.

    (And Sudha, you should deffo start your own blog.)

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  5. Does not seem to be a book that would rock my boat..but still

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  6. Ew! Limited to when she's not on her period? That's ew! Because ladies get all crazy and weak when they're not on their periods, I SUPPOSE? /cranky

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  7. @sakura: Thanks! I don't mind reading about prostitutes/sex workers in fantasy, but so often, they are all "oh, woe is me, all I can do is be a prostitute and help you, the male protagonist, because I am better than my profession." BLAH.

    @Liviana: Thank you! I am thinking about it :)

    @blodeuedd: Maybe not, but I still am going to look out for future works. He seems like he has some talent there, buried under some weird gendre driven plot devices.

    @Jenny: I KNOW, RIGHT? Oh poor Zamia, her awesome powers limited by her ladyparts. BAH.

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  8. It's hard to find the line between the types being familiar and adding to the reader's enjoyment of the story and the point at which the type is perpetuating a negative that you'd like to see evolve beyond what's on the page. Tricky. Overall, I've heard mixed responses to this one, but I'm still curious. (And, yes, why not have your own spot to bookchat?)

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