Month: June 2014
Impressive worldbuilding from Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon
Here’s a book recommended to me by Keri, a longtime fellow book buyer who also recommended to me three of my favorite modern day fantasy books that I just read this past week. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.
As someone whose main interest is medievalism and fantasy I’m so used to that being the background for worldbuilding in epic fantasy books. So when I read this I was surprised to find it based on Arab and Middle Eastern culture which now seems so obvious as a rich source for worldbuilding that I am surprised it isn’t done more. Maybe it has and I’ve just not yet discovered those books.
The worldbuilding is where this book shines. The magic system is diverse, from the brief glimpse we get of it requires both vocal and written incantations. The types of monsters called ghuls which are raised from different elements including sand, water and skin ghuls. What stands out the most is the main city of Dhamsawaat brought to life by block names, class of people, merchants, factions and of course the royal palace of the Khalif which contains the titled Throne of the Crescent Moon.
The main characters, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, Raseed bas Raseed, Zamia, Dawoud and Litaz all get points of views which really brings them to life as we get the inner workings of their struggle switching without delaying the action. Each one has both an inner and outer struggle you get to know and understand while also developing the relationships between the characters by letting us know what they think of one another. I think of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire with each point-of-view chapter having a cap off at the end of each chapter. What Ahmed does is switches point of view from one chapter to the next in the middle of action. Just as an example Adoulla could be fighting a ghul with Raseed and be cornered and outnumbered then immediately the next chapter we get Raseed’s point of view as he tries to save his mentor.
The themes that come out in the book that I thoroughly enjoyed because of the switching point of views is the dynamics of age and youth, piety and apathy, experience and naievity. Adoulla, Dawoud and Litaz are much older having had their adventures together for many years. Their reaction to society is less rigid, more open minded as they’ve seen much of the world. Adoulla is very much a cynical old man wishing to retire viewing the established ruling power as incompetent if not corrupt. Zamia and Raseed both have a very rigid view of the world with very little experience of other cultures and ideas. Raseed because of the religious order and Zamia because of her tribe follow a strict set of rules that has been taught to them without questioning if those rules may be wrong or right in a given situation.
Where the novel is weak is in it’s plot development. The middle section after the setup of the conflict takes so long to gather the allies, uncover the secrets of their enemy and develop the plan only for the climax to be over in a blink of an eye. It never gets slow, only because by the time you’ve read the middle section you’re enthralled by the characters. You want to know more about them even when the plot isn’t advancing. The other weak part is the villain himself who we learn almost nothing about except for his name. Then when we finally meet him he barely speaks and is defeated in the blink of an eye after one of the characters finds his inner strength to overcome his self-doubt caused by the villain’s magic. His second in command does all the dirty work and gets the most development through exposition.
Does that seem harsh? I’m not sure but I would still recommend this book despite the little bit of shortcomings. I’m looking forward to the second novel The Thousand and One and how he’ll bring his main cast of characters back together.
In Praise of The Hobbit Illustrated by Jemima Catlin.
Recently, I purchased a new edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit illustrated by Jemima Catlin thinking hey, this might be a great version to read to my nephew in the future or my kids if I decide to have any. I was taken aback when my copy arrived in the mail on Saturday.
You can’t discern it from the photo but this edition is heavy. Not heavy like a big leather bound version of The Lord of the Rings but more like a children’s book that would endure the abuse of being carried around by a child.
Not just in the title but in the tree Bilbo is leaning and and the animals on the right is bits of gold that really makes the cover stand out. The outside of the cover feels like felt, soft like a stuffed animal.
Each chapter begins with an illustration like this. I must admit this is one of my favorite illustrations of the green door of Bag End.
Larger illustrations like this are sprinkled throughout the chapters. What I enjoy about, and this is no way a jab at Peter Jackson or Alan Lee (who a lot of Peter Jackson’s designs and looks are based on) but I am glad all the characters don’t just look like imitations of the movie versions.
Then in pages like this, with the battle of the stone giants, it spreads over the pages as if the words of the book are in the story itself. This similarly happens in the scene with Gandalf lighting the pinecones and throwing them at the wargs.
Then full page illustrations like this are done for big moments in the books like say, meeting a sleeping dragon. I’m not going to spoil that here as it is a nice surprise when you see it.
This isn’t a review of The Hobbit. I mean, the text is exactly the same as it is in any other volume of The Hobbit, except maybe The Annotated Hobbit. Where this volume stand out is the illustrations. If I were a teacher, this would be the volume I’d read to my kids to introduce them to the world of Middle-Earth and fantasy fiction. If I were a parent of a young reader this would be the volume I’d give them for Christmas or their birthday.
The binding is quality material, beautiful yet durable. The illustrations are beautiful yet still approachable for children and the story is of course a brilliant faerie (in the traditional sense of the realm of the fays) tale.
Somes gems from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
I think it was Neil Gaiman who recommended it on his blog years ago, but I was going through my wishlist on Amazon when I came across this book.
A used copy wasn’t very much. Not the 1.95 that appears on the cover but something like 3 or 4 dollar. I started browsing through early this morning and decided to share some gems with you. Warning, some of them are indeed, as the title says, vulgar but in a strange archaic way. Some of them are still kind of gross.
Apple Dumplin Shop – a woman’s bosom
Banbury story of a cock and a bull – a round about, nonsensical story.
Barrel Fever – he died of barrel fever; he killed himself drinking.
Cackling Farts – Eggs.
Covey – A collection of whores. What a fine covey here is, if the devil would but throw his net!
Death’s head upon a mop stick – A poor miserable, emaciated fellow.
Dicked in the nob – Silly. Crazed.
Eternity Box – Coffin.
To Flash the Hash – To vomit.
Frenchified – Infected with the venereal disease. (Even in the 18th Century France was the butt of jokes.)
Gap Stopper – A whoremaster. (So many of these words are about prostitution in some way. I haven’t even touch the precipice of how many words there are about whores.
Hobberdehoy – Half a man and a half a boy; a lad between both.
Jerrycummumble – To shake, towzle, or tumble about.
Indorser – A sodomite.
King’s Pictures – Coin, money.
Laced Mutton – A prostitute. (That one is especially vulgar.)
Line of the Old Author – A dram of brandy.
Member Mug – A chamber pot.
Nimgimmer – A physician or surgeon, particularly those who cured venereal disease.
Occupy – To occupy a woman; to have carnal knowledge of her.
I think that’s enough. Going through this now I am getting a theme of 18th century England slang. It involved a lot of words for having sex, prostitutes, brothels and venereal disease. I mean what I posted here was just me going in alphabetical order randomly picking words by placing my finger on the page, and I still got words along the sex with prostitutes and spread of diseases theme. Maybe P – Z is just filled with words about how happy they are in 18th Century England, but I doubt it.