Book reviews: Throne of the Crescent Moon & Transition

Why was Adoulla made to bear so big a burden alone? When would others learn to defend themselves from the servants of the Traitorous Angel? What would happen after he was gone? Adoulla had asked Almighty God these questions ten thousand times in his life, but He Who Holds All Answers had never deigned to respond. It seemed that Adoulla’s gifts were always just enough to keep the creatures he faced in check, but he wondered again why God had made his life in this world such as a tiring, lonely chore. – Throne of the Crescent Moon: Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon – Saladin Ahmed: 4 out of 5

Reviewing two books today, so I thought I would start off with the good news. Throne of the Crescent Moon was an excellent, old school adventure fantasy with an uncommon Arabian Night’s flavour (at least uncommon to me – remember, I’ve only just started diversifying my reading!). Dr Adoulla is an aging ghul hunter – the last of his kind-  a magician who protects his city from the predations of ghuls – monsters animated from the inanimate (sand, dead flesh) by evil magic. Whilst wanting nothing more than to retire, Adoulla and his friends must band together to face down a frightening enemy who demonstrates powers far in excess of anything seen for centuries.

I said this was ‘old school’, and by this I meant it had all the really fun elements I associate with a classic high-fantasy novel; magic, good v evil, a band of heroes facing off against seemingly impossible odds, a city and land clearly rich in history, and an ancient rising evil threatening all our characters hold dear. Great stuff. Its a great story in a strong genre mould, and the action progresses quickly, keeping a good pace. The villains are villainous, the heroes are heroic.

As for the uncommon flavour I mentioned, Ahmed built a city I enjoyed walking around in, and characters I enjoyed meeting. The main city where the action occurs (Dhamsawaat) bustles, it sweats and heaves under the weight of the industrious populace. You feel the city’s tension brought to breaking point under the tyrannical Khalif, and the hope spread by the flamboyant Falcon Prince (the leader of the city’s rebellion). A fellow blogger here on wordpress once wrote a great article about making your writing smell better (available here on P.S.Hoffman’s Blog) – basically the article stated that by focusing on senses other than sight you can draw your readers deeper into your world. The author did a great job of this right from the start – with a character sitting inhaling a sweet-cardamom tea before drinking it – a scene that brings the reader right in there with them (and made me want to try cardamom tea).

Finally, the characters were great. Adoulla as the aging magician manages to avoid being a just a fat Gandalf, and instead reflects his own, tired, honourable sense of duty. His comrades Raseed the holy swordsman is conflicted by his strong faith and his attraction to the wild and tribal shapechanging girl Zamia. These are joined by his old (in fact now retired) ghul hunting buddies Dawoud (another magician of some stripe) and Litaz – an alchemist. Dawoud and Litaz are a couple, drawn back into this difficult life by the bonds of friendship with Adoulla and, yet again, a sense of duty.

I really enjoyed this, and would recommend it to anyone for a somewhat different fantasy novel with great characters and a great story. If I had to draw parallels to other authors and series, I think this sits nicely alongside Edding’s Belgariad – it has that easy reading style, strong identifiable and unique characters (although without Edding’s ‘too clever’ heroes who frequently annoyed me) and a solid epic feel.

Screams. Too many screams. They have kept me awake at night, woken me from dreams and nightmares.

I do not enjoy what I do, though I am not ashamed to do it, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that I am proud of it. It is something that has to be done, and somebody has to do it. It is because I do not enjoy it that I am good at it. I have seen the work of those who do enjoy our mutual calling, and they do not produce the best results. They get carried away, they indulge themselves rather than stick to the task in hand, which is to produce the results which are desired and to recognise when they are produced. Instead they try too hard, and fail.

I torture people. I am a torturer.

Transition – Iain Banks: 2 out of 5

So…. Transition. Ugh. Two stars.

I kinda feel bad giving this two stars (my lowest score for the year), but I stand by the score. In my view, this is a very flawed novel. I’m not going to dwell this book or its negatives too much, and if you look at Goodreads, some people love it, but in my view, this is a 400 page book that is 200 pages too long. And I like long novels.

The book is about the Concern, a dimension spanning organisation controlling the futures on every Earth in the infinite multiverse. The Concern is comprised of individuals, including the protagonist Temudjin Oh – the assassin – who are able to cast their minds from dimension to another, hopping into a new body, and influencing the direction of history. This synopsis alone made me borrow this book – its a great scifi idea, loads of potential – I was excited.

I was disappointed.

Ok – for starters, I couldn’t give two farts about any of the characters in the book. No-one is terribly unpleasant, no-one is terribly terrible, and no-one is in anyway remotely interesting. Oh, I suppose they have interesting jobs, assassin, torturer, drug dealer… but at no stage did I care what any of them were doing. Add to the fact that there were major characters who just didn’t do anything, and you have some serious problems. I don’t want to spend 50 pages with a character who doesn’t engage me and ends up superfluous.

Seriously – you could delete every reference to Adrian and the Philosopher and simply substitute a background character when they interact with someone and the story would be better for it. Bank’s needed to kill these darlings.

Because of all these superfluous characters, and the fact I couldn’t care about them, the book was really, really difficult to get into. Impenetrable was the word I used on goodreads. perspective would flip from one character to the next, or same character in a different body/different dimension. The major characters you spend time with were all written in first person and jumping perspective in first person took some getting used to. Add to this a chopping around in time (flashbacks, flashforwards)… I don’t mind challenging books, and I have no problems reading something where the author is trying a different style/perspective… but if you are going to write something this mixed up, I expect to be rewarded somewhere. I wasn’t.

Bank’s writing is great – the guy clearly has style, and I am going to find one of his better known novels to have a look at in the hopes that as an author he might be redeemed. But this one… in my view, this was a novella disguised as a novel. Cut half of it, cut the extraneous characters out and just leave us with Temudjin Oh’s story, and this could have been excellent.


5 thoughts on “Book reviews: Throne of the Crescent Moon & Transition

  1. I am with you on both of these. I really wanted to see Throne of the Crescent Moon win the Hugo in 2013. It is standard fantasy fare, but the setting is fresh and the mature, rickety protagonist is refreshing. I know Ahmed is struggling with his follow up, but this is one that definitely begs for a sequel. (And I normally complain about sequels!)

    I haven’t read Transition, but your experience sounds a lot like my experience with The Algebraist. The characters bored me, the plot bored me. It could have been shorter. Cool world, though! Ugh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read about Agmed’s struggles on his page – definitely be disappointed if he doesn’t get number 2 out.

      Transition had loads of potential; wasted, wasted potential. It’s a rare book where I’m that disinterested in the characters. And the plot seemed almost nonexistent (or so well hidden it might have well as been).

      I finish the Best Dark Fantasy & Horror book soon, then I’m on a proper classic scifi jag for a few. Three Frank Herbert’s & a PKD.


  2. I read Throne of the Crescent Moon a few years ago, immediately following a surgery. Admittedly, I was hopped up on painkillers, and, to boot, caught a virus at the hospital, so I was loopy and fevered while reading the book, and don’t recall much. But I remember not quite liking it. It’s not that I found it bad; it just didn’t grab me. Perhaps I should give it another chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really enjoyed it – recognising what it is of course: a quick fun piece of classic fantasy with a non-Tolkien non-western setting. If you are looking for more challenging fare, you might think it’s a little underdone.


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