Friday, March 01, 2013

[Lisa's Take] Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Hrm, hum. I suppose I should actually get a review down for Throne of the Crescent Moon, given that it’s up for a Hugo and all. 

I will go ahead and come clean: one of my favorite authors of all time is George Alec Effinger.  His Marid Audran books (starting with When Gravity Fails) are an absolute delight; I’m overdue for a re-read at this point.  When Gravity Fails can best be described as “cyberpunk set in a near-future middle east.”  If you are at all familiar with the conceit behind Throne of the Crescent Moon, you’ll see where I’m going with these; where Effinger wrote sci-fi set in the middle east, Ahmed has produced a historical fantasy set in the middle east.

I was understandably excited when I heard about Throne – with such similarities to one of my favorite series, how could it go wrong!  And it certainly did have a lot going for it – an interesting world with a solid magic system, a colorful city with vivid sights and smells, a narrative that moved along with a pleasant ebb and flow while never dragging. But for whatever reason, I never really connected with the story and the characters.  It’s so frustrating, because the main character is totally awesome on paper (if you’ll pardon the pun) – how can you go wrong with a 60-year-old, crass, out of shape, completely un-suave, un-extraordinary hero?  I expected him to be worming his way into my heart with every page – but for some reason he never quite developed from the sketch of awesomeness into a believable and endearing character.

To run through the major players: Adoulla seemed like I’d love him, but I didn’t.  Raseed and Zamia actively grated on me (as so often happens with naive young lovers in fantasy).  I adored Litaz and Dawoud and their deep, devoted, “friends as chosen family” relationship with Adoulla, but the two of them didn’t get enough screen time for my taste. Overall the characters were pretty hit and miss.

Ugh. I don’t know where I’m going with this. I really wanted to be wildly in love with Throne, and at the end of the day I wasn’t. Effinger did a similar conceit much better, and I kept looking for his excellence in Ahmed’s book. Totally unfair of me, but there it is.  That said, I do see a lot of promise in this particular debut, so I’ll almost certainly pick up the sequel in the near future.  Here’s to hoping for a more positive experience!