Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed
I just finished reading the book, which is a fantasy novel set in a Middle Eastern culture in a locale that sounds very similar to Egypt. It isn't a long or deep novel, but I enjoyed reading it. But I couldn't help all the way through feeling a bit like I was reading a roleplaying campaign. That is not a flaw.
The story follows a small group of characters living in the vast and crowded city of Dhamsawat. The primary protagonist is Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, an aged ghul hunter who has been at it for decades and is beginning to feel that it is time for him to retire. He is ably aided in his calling by his assistant Raseed bas Rassed, a Dervish of the Lodge of God. It wasn't difficult for me to think of D&D character classes that would suit Adoulla and Raseed; Adoulla might be a cleric, or perhaps a wizard, and Raseed could best be described as a lawful good monk with paladin tendencies. The other characters are a little more difficult to define in D&D-ish terms, but I would probably label Dawoud a sorcerer, Zamia a druid, and Litaz an alchemist (not a stretch, since she's described as such in the story).
Aside from entertaining the gamer in me by evoking such thoughts, the story also entertained by not being set in a medieval Europe analog. I've read plenty of stories set in places that sound much like Europe or Britain, or occasionally the Roman Empire. It was nice to read something with a different cultural spin. Ahmed's writing is full of flavorful phrases that evoke a city of domes and minarets with marketplaces full of exotic spices, silks, gems, and magic talismans that actually work. Interestingly, there is much reference to religion, a feature often lacking in fantasy unless a character is a priestess or avatar of some deity. Every character makes reference to the deity of this world on a regular basis. But despite the clear Arabian Nights feel, this world isn't Islamic, or at least not rigidly Islamic. There are idols and representational artworks everywhere.
Another feature I enjoyed was the variety of viewpoints used. Each of the characters I named above serves as viewpoint character at some point in the tale, so the reader gets to know a little about them all. That style of writing can be frustrating to read if there are too many characters to follow, but here with only five it works nicely. The characters are from two different age groups and several cultural backgrounds, so they provide the reader a window into the world in which Dhamsawat exists, as well as giving different views on the action.
I won't spoil the story by giving any details of the plot. Suffice to say that Adoulla and his friends must try to save the city from a terrible threat. They also get embroiled in some political intrigue involving a rebellion against the Khalif, but that is kept to a minimum, which was all right with me as I'm not fond of political intrigue in my fiction reading choices.
On the whole I enjoyed the story a good deal and wouldn't mind if Ahmed decides to write a sequel or another story in the same setting. If you enjoy fantasy and would like to read something with a different cultural feel, give Throne of the Crescent Moon a read.