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review 2016-07-02 23:34
#CBR8 Book 64: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Throne of the Crescent Moon - Saladin Ahmed

Resorting to the blurb for a plot summary, because I need to get my reviews up to date, and trying to come up with my own synopsis takes too long:

 

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms are at a boiling point. A struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious Falcon Prince is reaching its climax. In the midst of this brewing rebellion, a series of brutal supernatural murders strike at the heart of the Kingdoms.

 

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, three score and more years old, has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives. But when an old flame's family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter's path. Raseed bas Raseed, a hidebound holy warrior, is eager to deliver God's justice. Zamia Badawi has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but lives only to avenge her father's death. Until she meets Raseed and Adoulla.

 

When they learn that the murders and the brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing, they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn the city, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin. 

  

First of all, I would like to point out that the blurb I copied from the back of my book actually contained TWO separate grammatical errors, that I felt the need to correct before transcribing it. That's some piss-poor copy-editing there, Gollancz publishers. Real nice. I can't have spent too much time reading the back before picking this book up at a clearance sale at the Oslo Airport book shop a few years ago. I may have refrained from buying the book if I'd seen that. Now, having read the whole book (as far as I can recall, there are no egregious grammatical errors in the actual book), I'm glad I did buy it. It was an entertaining, and out of the ordinary read, for me.

 

Second of all, the blurb makes it seem as if Adoulla is actually pretty much retired when these supernatural murders occur. That is not the case. He is in fact pretty much the only one still trained in the old ways to kill ghuls and other horrible monsters, with most of his peers either already retired or dead. Naturally, he's getting a bit fed up, and feeling his age more and more. Raseed is a deeply religious dervish and Adoulla's apprentice. He's frequently shocked and outraged at the older man's speech and behaviour, but there is also clearly a lot of affection between them. Together, they work hard for little monetary reward and keep risking their lives to keep the populace of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms safe. 

 

Zamia Banu Laith Badawi is a desert warrior, who was chosen to take on the role as Protector of her tribe, meaning she can shape-shift into a lion with supernaturally sharp claws and teeth. Normally, the role of Protector would be bestowed on a man, and after Zamia's entire tribe was brutally murdered by an evil, soul-stealing sorcerer, she is starting to believe that she is unworthy of her gifts. She has nonetheless sworn to avenge her people and while initially sceptical to Adoulla and Raseed, she agrees to join forces with them. As it turns out that her lion-shape is the only thing able to harm the incorporeal Jackal-spirit helping the sorcerer, her aid becomes invaluable to the ghul hunters.

 

The majority of epic fantasy seems to be both written and largely populated by white men. Luckily, the fantasy landscape isn't all J.R.R "I have three women of any importance in my fantasy epic, and let's face it, Arwen isn't much to write home about" Tolkien any more, but unlike in paranormal fantasy (where pretty much all the writers and protagonists I can think of are women, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden being the notable exception), there is still a strong dominance of Caucasian men both writing and populating the stories. Now, Saladin Ahmed is also a dude, but he is of Arabian descent and there is not, as far as I can tell from their physical descriptions, a single white person in this book. The setting, characters, supernatural threats and magic is all Arabic-inspired, reminding me a lot of A Thousand and One Nights.

 

Two of the protagonists are men, one older, one young, but they would clearly be completely overpowered if not for Zamia. The most important supporting character is also a formidable woman of rank and magical abilities and it shouldn't be quite so surprising when women are given prominence and an equal share of the glory in fantasy. But it sort of is.

 

So why no more than 3.5 stars? Despite the interesting and unusual setting, the pretty cool characters and the fairly action-packed plot, I just kept waiting to get more engrossed in the story. It took me four full days to finish the book, which is unusual for a book of only 300 pages. I will absolutely be keeping my eye out for the next book in the series, as I hope that now that I've been introduced to the world and the characters, the next book may be more of a page-turner for me. A promising beginning to a series, but not the most exciting fantasy I've read. Huge kudos for doing something different, though.

 

Judging a book by its cover: The UK paperback I own of this has a fairly plain cover, a bluish purple with hints of mosaic decoration, with the Throne of the title prominently displayed, even highlighted as with a spotlight. There is a curved sword resting on it and quite a lot of blood on the sword, as well as the seat and base of the throne. I don't want to spoil too much of the book, but the image is really quite apt. The US cover has an artist's rendering of what the three protagonists might look like while fighting ghuls, but I actually prefer this simple cover, as my mental image of the characters doesn't match up with that of the other cover.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/07/cbr8-book-64-throne-of-crescent-moon-by.html
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review 2016-03-15 11:00
An Arabic Family Saga: The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz

Here's a recent review from Read the Nobels about a novel titled The Harafish. It's an interesting book from the pen of Naguib Mahfouz, the so far only Egyptian recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. It's also Guiltless Reader's first contribution to the annual event Read the Nobels 2016, which is still open for sign-up, by the way.

 

»»» read also my review of Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz.

Source: readnobels.blogspot.com
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review 2015-08-05 10:48
Blyton tells stories from ancient times
Tales Of Long Ago (Rewards) - Enid Blyton

When I discovered this book it pretty much jumped to the top of my 'must get a copy of it' list, the reason being is that it contained a collection of stories from Greek Mythology and the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. Knowing a lot of Greek stories, and how sexually explicit some of them were, I wanted to see how Blyton turned them into children's stories. Getting my hands on this book was an adventure in itself since I could not find it in any of the second hand bookshops in the city, and the one that did was asking $90.00 for it (which I was not going to pay). I was tempted to get one over Ebay, however on my last day in Adelaide, I went for a drive around the suburbs and discovered that they were a dime a dozen and ended up getting a copy cheaper than what Ebay had to offer. Personally, I am still baffled as to why this one shop thought they could get away with charging $90.00 for it (and in reality, they probably can't).

 

When I read this book I was even more astonished at the sources that Blyton used. It turns out that in the Greek section a bulk of the stories she took straight out of Ovid. Now, Blyton writes these stories as aetiological myths, that is a story of how something became what it is. Maybe to the Ancient Greeks that is what these tales were, however to Ovid it was not. Ovid did not see these stories as aetiological but rather demonstrations of the changing nature of the universe and the fact that everything is constantly in flux. However I will not go into deeper detail about Ovid here, except to say that whenever I read one of these Greek stories of transformation I do not think aetiological, I think Ovidian.

 

It also surprised me that it was not only Ovid that she used: she also took as story from Herodotus, being the story about the master musician who was thrown overboard by pirates and rescued by dolphins who were enchanted by his music. The other story, Cupid and Psyche, is taken from Apuleius' Golden Ass, which, to be honest with you, is not the type of book that one would read to children (considering there are numerous instances of bestiology). However, the Cupid and Psyche story is much tamer than the rest of The Golden Ass.

 

So, the question then remains, how does Blyton deal with the sex issue. The answer is that she doesn't. She talks about love and relationships, and most of the stories that she uses do not involve sex. However one of the stories, the story of Io, does, and I feel that she does cause some problems. In her story she tells of how Jupiter (she uses the Roman names, which is further evidence that she used Ovid as a source) travelled to Earth to talk to Io and that he created a cloud to hide them. However Juno saw the cloud and became incredibly jealous. The thought that rises in my head is 'why is Juno jealous of Jupiter talking to Io?' Maybe the question won't be asked, but then again maybe it will.

 

The second part of the book is taken from the Arabian Nights. Blyton explains at the beginning how the book is actually a collection of stories that are being told by a noble Persian woman to the Caliph. The Caliph one day caught his wife having an affair and so he killed her. Not trusting woman anymore, he decided to marry a woman for a night and then kill her. It came to the point that there were no longer any available women and it was the Vizier's daughter's turn to take the wedding vow, however she tricked him by beginning a story and ending at a cliff-hanger which meant that the Caliph could not kill her until he had heard the ending, but when she ended one story she would immediately start another. This went on for 1001 nights and at the end the Caliph decided that he would keep the princess alive.

 

 

There are a number of familiar stories here, including Sinbad the Sailor (though only six of his journies are told), Aladdin and the Lamp, and Ali Baba and the forty thieves. Also there are other stories, including one about a magical horse, another about a genie and three merchants, and another about a lost city. Mind you, when I read Ali Baba, I could not help but laugh whenever somebody said 'open sesame'. These stories are so permeated into our culture that we sometimes forget their origin, and the thing is that these stories all come from the Muslim world.

 

The book actually gives a good overview of the style of story telling from the Arabian Nights and I must say that it is very impressive. In fact many of these stories seem to set the standard for many of the other works that have succeeded it, right down to the stock standard Hollywood film. The protagonists always win, always come out wealthy, and always get the girl. However they also go through trials and tribulations to reach this ending. Further, there a stories within stories within stories, and one of the stories, the Genie and the Three Merchants, indicates this. It is also interesting that the story of the lost city has a pool in which there are four coloured fish, representing the faiths of the people of the land (which are Muslim, Christian, Jew, and Xorastrian). For me, the Arabian Nights has suddenly appeared on my reading list and we could learn quite a lot about Muslim culture and storytelling from it.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/296264694
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review 2015-01-05 00:30
An Impressive Achievement
Habibi - Craig Thompson

Although I had read Craig Thompson's Blankets, and thought it quite fine, it did not prepare me for the amazing achievement that is Habibi. There is an incredible amount of care in each page, a thematic cohesion across the entire book, that this is finally a graphic novel that deserves the latter term.  So many graphic novels come across as slight--often because they are simply collections of monthly serials that strive to create an overall story arc, but are often simply the stuff of melodrama. Thompson has truly created something that stands apart, and is worthwhile of your time.

 

Yet, I still only gave it 3.5 stars. Why? There's the rub. While I was impressed by Thompson's craft, and admired his themes, the underlying story itself failed to really connect with me. Having just completed living in Saudi Arabia for two-and-a-half years, I'm no stranger to the Arabic culture that provides the underlying cultural viewpoint, and I had done my own self study of the Arabic alphabet and could enjoy the intricate script work that Thompson achieved. But the biggest failing for this book for me is it's post-apocalyptic setting.  I'm just not a big fan of what happens after the world fails to address climate change and things fall apart. While one can read and enjoy Habibi without focusing on its post-apocalyptic setting--you could try and read this as some kind of alternate world--there's just too much of it for me.

 

The story, without giving too much away, is about a young woman and an even younger boy who undergo change and transformation as they find each other, lose each other and themselves, and then refind themselves and the other.  It's a very unusual love story, and it's about as much, if not more, about love in the abstract as it is about love in reality.  

 

There are some harsh images here, both presented visually on the page and implied off the panel, as the plot contains some graphic description of sex--both good and bad--, childbirth, body mutilation, and poverty.  But if you have a strong stomach, and want to read something like nothing else, this is recommended.

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review 2014-02-08 00:00
Raweyat Al Aflam (The Movie-maker Arabic Ed)
راوية الأفلام - Hernán Rivera Letelier,صالح علماني,إيرنان ريبيرا لتيلير رواية قصيرة جميلة حزينة كنت اتمني ان تطول الرواية اكثر من هذا فماريا سردت لنا الرواية كأنها تروي فيلم من افلامها فكأننا كنا معها في تلك القرية بشيلي

وترجمة رائعة لصالح علماني كالعادة
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