Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Series: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1
Published by DAW Books
Pages: 274
Genre: Fantasy
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Doctor Adoulla is the last ghul hunter.

He and his apprentice, Raseed, have been working to keep the great city of Dhamsawaat safe when an attack on a small family causes them to leave the tea-house - I mean - the city. They discover Zamia, a young lioness shape-changer, looking for the creature that killed her tribe. Her only clue is a bloody dagger that smells of no animal or human.

'One can only know as much as one has lived to know, though it is certainly possible to learn a great deal less than this.'

Sometimes, I've discovered, there's a reason why you read the first few pages of a book and then set it back on your shelf in favor of something else. There's also a reason why occasionally a book sits on the shelf for eight months without being read. Unfortunately, sometimes you can just tell that, no matter how awesome a book sounds, it just won't turn out well. This was one of those books for me.

The setting was doubtlessly my favorite thing about this book. Usually when I read fantasy, I stay with the tried and true with a locale locked in vaguely middle-ages Europe and a pantheon reminiscent of ancient Greek or Egyptian. This book has neither. It draws very firmly on Middle East culture and from what I can tell, it has an all-seeing, one true god. This setting - woefully underutilized and very confusing culturally - was the only truly good thing about this book.

The characters themselves...Well, they all got more and more annoying to me as the story progressed. There's five main characters that all take their turn at narrating the story - which is all to the good for me. However, three of the characters are filled with self-pity and think that they are too old for this fighting and deserve some happiness now. Seriously, that's about the limit of two of the three's character personality. The third one also likes to eat and drink, so at least he has more of a personality.

The remaining two characters are the youngsters of the group. They actually have a tiny bit more personality, and are even a little interesting, but they are almost as annoying. What I did like about those two were the fact that they were both very 'gung-ho' fighters.

Several times throughout the book characters contradicted themselves. One very obvious example was when one woman made a remark about merely wanting 'a few more years' of peace before she hoped to die. Then later in the same conversation, she announced that she had another 'twenty years' left. Perhaps it's supposed to be, I don't know, likable? She did use each statement to win an argument though, so maybe that was supposed to negate all effects. She's not the only example, but the others are less quotable and, after a while, I tried my best to block out the near bi-polar thoughts these people had of death and fighting.

I'd also like to make mention of marriage. There seems to be a strange preoccupation of marriage in this book. If you're female, you're either married or want to get married. To a degree, I could understand why the young tribeswoman wants that - as she is the last of her clan and there is no one else to carry on her family. However, that is pretty much half of her characterization - and it even shows up during what I believe was her first narrative turn. There's also a married woman that takes a lot of delight in the fact that an old flame of hers is still very interested. To the point of her thinking that there was a part of her that wanted him.

There was also a point that a woman got punched in the face and her immediate response was 'I'm a woman. I'm not built for this.' even though this is a woman that has been fighting along her comrades for at least thirty years. What, you mean to tell me that she never got punched before? I could have understood it better if she was pitying herself for being old, instead of the odd apparent mentality that women cannot fight.

And, for a book that boasts two out of five main characters as female, this was a distinctly anti-female story. There was talk of a woman that was raped and killed herself (apparently because of it). There was not one, but two instances of a child being raised only by the father because the mother was dead. There were countless instances of a woman suppressing tears - or being unable to.

Their whole lives revolved around one man or another and they often do whatever he wants - regardless of their opinions of the matter. They were supposedly very strong, but in reality were so not. I found this quote from the book and I just had to share it: '[...]showed the secret, defenseless self that she only ever showed late at night to him.' I'm sorry? What? This is from a woman that owns her own brothel, for pities sake! You know, a woman can be strong without it being a mask.

This book, I do believe, would have failed The Bechdel Test. The requirements are as follows:
A work of fiction must have:
  1. At least two female characters
  2. That have at least one conversation
  3. About something other than men

Scratch that. I know this story failed that test. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've read books that don't have two female characters that ever meet. But in this book, two of the main five were females so... The only conversation I actually remember them having was about one of the guys being a potential love interest for one of the females in the conversation.

For all the times love was mention or alluded to in this story, it has no romance. From the old married couple to the old man that wants to reunite with his lady love to the two youngsters that are attracted to one another - there is no romantic anything. In a situation like this, I would have preferred no romance over the tepid emotions we got.

Finally, we don't even get romance of the adventure/epic variety. Once and only once, the characters leave the city and that was at almost the very beginning of the story. There was no exploration - though old Adoulla did reminiscence a little about everything he's seen, but it's just not the same.

As a whole, this was a very depressing book with the characters so unhappy with their lives, a not entirely good ending and a lot of whining by most of the main characters. And my inner feminist - who is usually pretty well pacified with offers of awesome fights and dashing men - railed against this whole thing.

To be honest with you, before I finished this story it was going to get four stars. Then, I was going to give it three before I started thinking about it. Then it was going to be rated two stars before I realize that it really was a sexist book. Ultimately, I did not like it. Ergo:

One Star
  • Uh... Like the idea for the setting.
  • Love the cover.
  • Misogynistic
  • Unlikable characters
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