Last week my book group, Other Realms, discussed Saladin Ahmed’s Hugo award nominated novel, Throne of the Crescent Kingdom. I was excited to discuss Ahmed’s book with the group because I enjoyed the book myself and think Ahmed is brilliantly funny and astute on Twitter.
We started by talking about the characters. One reader expressed appreciation that the main character of the book, Doctor Adoulla, is an older protagonist where fantasy generally features young heroes and heroines. Others agreed that a more mature hero was refreshing. He went on to say that he felt that required a little more backstory to which another reader retorted that the book basically starts with a mass murder so it’s no shakes on plot or pacing. Readers thought the other characters were less well-developed but still absorbing and that the tension and perspective set up between Adoulla and his young apprentice, Raseed, provided a dynamic interplay between old and young, moderation versus extremism. The young shapeshifter, Zamia, was, as one reader noted, not any less actualized than Raseed but not perfectly feminist. Still, Ahmed seemed to differentiate between the characters, there was enough nuance to keep things interesting for some while others found some of them one-dimensional. The Falcon Prince provided some interesting side discussion as our notion of him may change depending on what Ahmed does with the subsequent books in the series; the Falcon Prince starts as a dashing, puckish type of character but then his motives become slippery and suspect at the end.
We spent time talking about where Throne of the Crescent Moon fits and the world it creates. While Ahmed rests his story in the sword and sorcery tradition he infuses it with a Middle Eastern setting without making direct parallels to any one country or political situation. One reader did say there were loads of “Islamic Easter eggs” throughout the story that some history buffs might catch. Most readers felt that Ahmed created a living, breathing place with a poetic albeit pulpy style, in keeping with the subgenre.
Diversity in the genre is a part of any discussion these days–readers should be asking where the women, people of color, less binary representations of gender and sexuality are in the genre–so we talked about the potential for a voice like Ahmed’s, where his unique perspective worked and where it didn’t go far enough. Some readers wanted him to draw more obvious parallels to time and place while someone mentioned that maybe Ahmed wanted to avoid Salman Rushdie’s fate. I asked the group if we were harder on writers of color and expect more from them whereas we overlook faults with more typical, Western representations in the genre. One reader thought Ahmed wrote for a Western audience so it worked well in making the world and characters relatable.
Throne of the Crescent Moon provided a good discussion. Some readers really enjoyed it and said they would read the next books in the series, others wanted a more literary tone in the language, but we all seemed to agree that Saladin Ahmed is a writer to watch.