Adoulla is fat, grumpy and getting old, but he’s the last true ghul hunter in Dhamsawaat, capital of the kingdoms of the Crescent Moon. And frankly, that set-up is more than enough to get me excited. Bring it on.
His apprentice – or assistant – or possibly partner – Raseed is a religious obsessive with a fine line in violence, but no street smarts and no head for incantations, so Adoulla remains unretired and unmarried (as he was taught that he’d lose his magic the day he wed, although it’s absolutely fine to sleep with people).
When his former lover’s niece is murdered, Adoulla and Raseed go a-hunting and trip over more trouble than they can handle until a feisty shape-changing Badawi girl comes to the rescue. As matters escalate, the trio must also enlist Adoulla’s former partners Dawood and Litaz to their aid – and all five are drawn into the conspiracy of the Falcon Prince, a thief with an eye on the Crescent Moon itself.
I wanted to like this more than I actually did. I’ve been quietly dying to read some fresh fantasy, and this looked like it had the ingredients as well as some hefty recommendations from authors I respect. I like a fantasy world that plays respectfully with non-western tropes and I enjoyed the initial introduction of the world-weary adventurer who wants to lay down arms and grow old(er) and fat(ter) with a well-padded woman. There’s also some great incidental world-building (mostly at the beginning), with the Arabian setting shown rather than told for the first couple of chapters.
However, I felt the prose lurched badly off-key whenever it tripped into exposition, and all of the various characters’ internal dialogue felt rather forced. Worse, the characters themselves – and especially Raseed and Zamia – felt flimsy (a second dimension? Who needs one of those?) and the romantic subplot tenuous at best (although I’m willing to wear a cynic t-shirt here – I’m just not big on love at first sight, especially when it’s counter to everything you’ve seen in a character to date).
The novel is ultimately short and punchy – not a bad thing per se, but in this case I can’t help but wonder if a bit more time and a few more pages would have given the characters more time to breathe and evolve.
All in all, this wasn’t terrible, but it could have been so much better – and it didn’t leave me begging for more, which is a bit worrying for what is clearly meant to be the opening salvo of a new epic sequence.