Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Throne of the Crescent Moon

Hello readers, I come back to you now with another review. This time I send us off to exotic lands of deserts and djinn, ghuls and dervishes. This week I bring you a review of Saladin Ahmed's, Throne of the Crescent Moon!

This is a refreshing and interesting fantasy book since it departs from what we would view as traditional fantasy in a number of what I consider to be very unique circumstances. The first is that rather being set in anything even resembling a facsimile of Medieval Europe, we instead get something that is much more like a fantasy Asia all mixed into one! We have a Khalif who sits on the Crescent Moon Throne of the great city of Dhamsawaat, an ancient society which is a sort of Ancient Egypt, and the surrounding societies all seem to resemble things like the Muslim Kingdoms of India or the Pacific. It's a fresh and as far as I'm aware, virtually unique look at a sort of pseudo-Islamic world in fantasy.

The book itself is written by a man named Saladin Ahmed, a man who is both a poet and a writer who has an extensive background in Islamic history and culture. This offers something very new to fantasy, and as far as I'm aware, something that hasn't been explored in depth. The novel has a very 'Thousand and One Nights' feel to it, and is really quite interesting in that sense. It gives you a look into a society that would be familiar to some, yet totally alien to others. It's actually quite like how I would imagine a foreigner reading our High Fantasy really.

It also offers up some rather unusual characters. For one thing the main character is a fat elderly gentleman in his late forties who is somewhat impious and becoming the last of a dwindling order of ghul hunters. His assistant is a pious dervish wielding a double bladed sword to cleave right from wrong and they eventually ally themselves with a tribeswoman with the ability to morph herself into a holy lion that can crush the forces of evil with her angel granted powers.

Not exactly your traditional fantasy  characters.

Their enemies too are a manjackal and a sorcerer who summons ghuls (or ghouls to those of you familiar with my Undead Menace article) to do his bidding.

Still some recognizable fantasy elements all skillfully blended together with new cultural ideas and locales. There's even a political subplot dealing with potential revolutionaries fighting against what they see as the despotic rule of the current Khalif, all for a juicy flavor of political intrigue and high fantasy action.

The characters themselves, Doctor Adoulla Mahkslood, Raseed ben Raseed, and Zamia are all fairly interesting characters. They each have some fairly good character building moments, periods of internal conflict, and issues with one another that serve to make them real and three dimensional rather than your standard do no wrong good guys, hell many of them even exhibit some good old fashion prejudice to those who aren't like them! For instance we have Adoulla and Raseed, two evil fighting partners with completely different views of the world, you have the old veteran Adoulla who has spent his entire life fighting and hunting monsters and is beginning to tire of it all, despite the fact that if he dies there is likely no one else who can carry on his orders knowledge and fight. He is also morally gray and fairly impious, and this clashes well with his young and eager protege who is from a religious order which dedicates itself to a lifelong struggle of virtuous justice. Raseed is very black and white in his worldview which tempers his reactions to any situation in an almost predictable way, but it also gets him into trouble as the story progresses.

As a cool aside, Raseed's sword is based on Iman Ali's sword from Muslim history.

Story wise the plot flows seamlessly from one scene to the next with very little pause in the running action and dialogue. You are driven from the beginning of the Doctor's quest, on a seemingly unrelated matter, into events that shake the very foundation of the city of Dhamsawaat itself! The story is wonderful and relentless in its telling and you really get a feel for each of the individual characters.

We also are treated to some wonderfully exotic action scenes featuring magic, sword fighting, and not a little bit of desperate cleverness on the part of the heroes. It also does a wonderful job of portraying magic that comes with a cost, whether in a persons personality, soul or body. Every spell cast has an immediate physical reaction both against those whom it is cast against, and those who cast it, making the act of calling upon magical forces seem very real and very challenging.

The setting itself  is also exotic and described in some detail giving it a very neat flavor. However, it isn't described as well as one might like. While I got a decent feel for how the city of Dhamsawaat was laid out, I couldn't be sure of everything that was in it and some details of the surrounding area and peoples seemed mildly to vague for how involved they were in the story. Some key locations could also have used a bit more description or even mention early on. For instance, the Khalif's palace is supposed to be the largest structure in all Dhamsawaat but it gets very little mention until directly near the end of the novel. Then one place called Angel's Square gets only cursory description despite being called breath taking and awe inspiring to those who enter it, I really don't have any mental picture of how it's laid out or what it would look like. Similarily Adoulla's house is something which seemed to be introduced a little too late with little preamble for all the meaning it had to Adoulla, something which I think could have been rectified by having Adoulla thinking wistfully about his house and commenting on its value to him earlier in the story.

The pacing of the novel is also quite fast with no real breaks being taken from character to character and all the action seeming to come at once with little suspense in between. We get some periods of calm, but they always feel like we're being whisked away with each character before we can catch our breaths.

That's not a net negative in itself but merely a matter of pacing which I think ought to be addressed in the sequel.

All in all the novel is a good read and is a fascinating insight into a world which is different from ours and the exciting conclusion left us with a load of problems for the heroes to face in the coming future. I felt excited to learn what challenges might crop up in the future and just what new crisis could emerge on the horizon for our heroes.

I've deliberately left the novels plot unspoiled as I think people really ought to read it for themselves so they can get a feel for the world and how it meshes itself out. The novel may feel a bit unpolished and perhaps a bit unrefined but it is well worth the read as Ahmed is really a writer to watch out for in the future!

If I had to give it a rating I'd say 3.5 stars out of 5 would do it for this book.

Until next time readers!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Remakes in Moderation Please

Well I have to say that I have recently come across some mildly disturbing news thanks to Cracked. That is their lovely article here detailing how we have a slew of remakes to look forward to in the near future.

For those not willing to read the article, a short summary; here we have no less than three Peter Pan remakes coming out in the near future, four series that could only under a generous stretch of the imagination be called Wizard of Oz spin offs (of some sort), two new sets of Tarzan movies, and two films about Hercules, one staring the Rock no less.

And some other kid

Now let me get something off my chest, I'm not against remakes, not at all. I actually like many reboots or re imaginings of old shows. For instance I loved Tin Man's re imagining of The Wizard of Oz universe in a slightly darker and more adult version of the old Oz franchise, I am a huge fan of Peter Jackson's 2005 King Kong reboot, Death Race in 2008, The Godzilla remake in 1998, and I sincerely enjoyed the reboot of The Thing in 2011 (ok not technically a reboot or remake but still something cool finally done in the universe there). Hell until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars I'd even been hoping to see some Star Wars remakes before I died.

However, there is a thing which makes reboots good, and what makes us want them, the fact that we haven't seen these things in a long time.

The upcoming Godzilla remake will have waited a respectable time (16 years) before putting a major Godzilla piece on the market again (and I say major in all seriousness, the Power Ranger esque Godzilla bits coming out in the 80s don't count) and that's what makes people look forward to it.

The TV series Once Upon a Time is fresh because no one has really done a grand new imagining of the old fairy tales in a long time, and not in such a fresh and fascinating way with a diverse cast of characters and an epic plot.

The upcoming sequel to 300 (300: Rise of an Empire) has waited a long time to reintroduce us to that crazy sword and sandals world we haven't seen in a while. I've been broadcasting all about it on my Facebook page for a while now and the trailers have been out on Youtube so if you don't know about it shame on you!

There's also the upcoming re imagining of the 47 Ronin which looks to be almost 300 in Japan, is a film to look forward to I would personally say with cautious optimism.

You know what separates these things from all the other remakes I've mentioned? They're years apart from each other, seem to be trying to breath new and innovative ideas into a creation, and they can act independently of each other. These remakes seem to not even care that they'll be competing with other remakes of the same story, as if the producers didn't stop and think "Hey we'll be flooding the market with a really similar product to the next guy!" making the potential interest evaporate as you see the same thing over and over again. Hell of all the items on the list the only one I would consider seeing is the one that puts a modern soldier in a post-apocalyptic Oz since that seems like an even darker version of Tin Man.

This is actually a problem I've been having with superhero movies recently. Yes their big flashy blockbuster productions what should I expect? Here's the thing though, we're being flooded with cheap (and sometimes tacky) remakes of films, for example, the Hulk films of the last decade are barely 5 years apart all so Hulk could be shoehorned into the Avengers (Don't get me wrong Avengers was great, but did they really need the remake? We know who Hulk is and he doesn't have anything original to contribute to the series like Iron Man, Thor or Captain America, but I digress). Now we're going to have to contend with yet another series of remakes for Super Man (whose films really can't do anything original to save their lives) and more Batman since it seems they intent on recreating the Justice League, meaning we will probably have to endure another Green Lantern movie (gack) and potentially Aquaman.

Now this version I would see

My issue with these is that they are basically just hashing out old ideas and trying to market them to a new audience. In some cases it works (for the Avengers especially) but for things like Batman and Superman, we're really just whipping the same dead horse and we'll probably be at it for the next decade.

Now although some of these remakes may not end up being awful (I'm willing to bet money they won't be great either) I'm not enthusiastic for their release.

To finish off I know that this blog would never get the ear of major producers, but is it seriously so much to ask of them to jump out of the cardboard box they've been in for the last decade and start trying to embrace some new ideas, writers, or scenarios? Hell would it be too much to ask that we could actually try and market a new superhero to people instead of just rehashing old ones?

If we're going to be dusting off old ideas, why not try some that really haven't been done before? Maybe some of H.P Lovecrafts numerous works in his mythos could be adapted (Aquaman optional)? Perhaps we could get a modern Dune series (yes we had the miniseries in 2000 but would a decent film with a good budget really be too much to ask for by 2020?). Or even say an adaption of the great novel Earth Abides? (Not starring Will Smith or Tom Cruise even).

What I suppose I'm trying to say if we have to dust off old ideas rather than attempt to embrace new ones, we could at least be dusting off old ideas that haven't been done before (or at least in a long time). Let's try fishing up some new fodder instead of digging up the same old corpse before it's body is even cold ok producers?

Until next time readers.