Fantasy Round 38: Throne of the Crescent Moon
And, shockingly enough, I haven’t even put in that many spoilers, so if you just want a taste before you read, this one is probably safe.
Also, be careful about reading it while hungry. It won’t help.
All The Delicious Things
The story has a mix of available cuisines and leisure items — tobacco is available (okay, and not so delicious), as are cardamom tea and yam candies. Lamb with mint.
The descriptions are excellent.
In a more general sense, a lot of lucious description is blended into the novel, from the signals given by clothing — Adoulla’s unstainable white khaftan, Zamia’s leathers, a dervish’s blue turban, and an alchemist’s finest clothing.
Of course, the contrast between these more fun items and the horrors visited upon some characters is quite stark. The violence I think is also well done — we get enough to know what’s going on, without veering into torture porn. We mostly get those vignettes from the perspective of the victim, which helps.
Ghuls and Elements
Oh, my goodness, these things are terrifying.
The ghuls and the unusual six-element system (which is barely touched upon) are part of one of the reasons why this story is fun, at least for me. I don’t already know all about the puzzle pieces, in the way I already know roughly what to expect from orcs and elves and goblins and dwarves and wizards.
Also, ghuls are nasty critters, made from grave-dirt or sand or… worse things. (Note: these definitely do not make me hungry.) But they’re made by humans — and, as in every story, it all boils down to human desires and motivations. Some people seek power, and some people try to protect themselves or others, and do what they think is right. Critically, despite the literally fantastic situations, humans are still human.
The Pervasiveness of Religion
Saladin Ahmed, the author, is Muslim. The religious system in the book clearly reflects this influence, via the numerous poetic invocations of God (inspired, I suspect, by the names of God in Islam) and the fascinating contrast of the opinions of two of the lead characters.
Adoulla is an older man, and he’s perfectly content to eat, drink, and be merry when he can. He figures that his service to God as a ghul hunter gives him a certain right to that. He also wants his apprentice/partner Rasheed to be happy.
Rasheed, on the other hand, is a dervish, and follows a fervent, strict faith. He avoids all the lucious foods that Adoulla enjoys, and follows a strict moral code. He’s quite the paladin, up to and including “no lying”. He clashes with Adoulla at times, when Adoulla’s methods for doing good don’t line up with Rasheed’s expectations. We watch him struggle with normal sexual attraction, and it’s easy to sympathize with his anguish about starting to fall in love with another character.
Worse, of course, if the fact that if Rasheed marries, he will be prohibited from ever advancing in rank as a dervish.
I expect that much of Rasheed’s experience is a commentary on the problems of excessively strict religion, and that the above mentioned restriction is one example of such problems.
Finally, I suspect that a group called the Humble Students is a deliberate reference to religious police in various forms. They threaten women who are out at night with beating for prostitution — regardless of what they’ve actually been doing. They act with a degree of impunity, and are less about guarding against sin than they are about enjoying their own power. They are zealots through and through, and it’s very clear just how much they hurt people with less power.
That clash — between those with power, and those who suffer without — is the central star around which the entire story resolves.