The particular moment of charm

I spent some time this week going through my book wishlist, requesting them from the library in a new surge of conviction that THIS TIME I won’t just eat the very same cost of the books in library fines as I would if I had bought them. But since that still leaves me with the need for e-books on my phone to fall asleep on, I bought a couple of new books. Lately my book recs have come from particular blogging friends (oursin, wiredferret, seelight) and my friend Bryony in England (though I am ignoring her obsession with Icelandic mystery and action novels).

And tonight in the bath I was reading the book I bought, Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed. For a while it felt a bit stumbly and awkward, but lovely anyway. It was easy to let go of whatever hangups bugged me about the writing style and see where the book and its charming characters were going. The lion-girl was a good sign! Sometimes I wait while reading for myself to open up to the experience or the ride and have to let go of… of something. (That’s an important feeling, hard to convey, which people may describe as taking a while to get into, but which I think is often a lack of context on the reader’s part. ) Without practicing that letting-go, omg, the things I would have missed in so many excellent books! And details obviously references someone would make sense of were slipping by, that I knew I was missing,. Rughali = ghali = egyptian? Where is the Soo Republic – Soo = Somalia? Missing it all over the place. Tantalizing! Someone else will get it right off and like it. Good. Anyway, as I was in mid-story in Throne of the Crescent Moon, there was a moment where the book completely charmed me and I trusted the story. That’s what I want to describe!

book cover of throne of the crescent moon

The point of view changes frequently, from Adoulla the ghul-hunter (who feels a bit like the main character so far), to Raseed, his assistant, then to the lion-girl. How the characters think of each other and their relationships is important shifting territory. Adoulla’s friend Litaz and her husband Dawoud, alkhemists from another land, are helping him in a crisis. Litaz is thinking about her (locked/twisted) hair and how her husband affectionately teases her about it at times and how his people do their hair in his country (which is in like West Africa somewhere. Unlike how they do it in her homeland (which is in East Africa). And I was keenly appreciating that they were outsiders in the city yet they weren’t just lumped together like “the alkhemists from Africa”. Then…

Upon waking a few hours later, Litaz made more tea and Adoulla thanked her for it as if she had saved his mother’s life. He was a bit less inconsolable after his rest, grim planning clearly giving him purpose.

“That jackal-thing that calls itself Mouw Awa, and its mysterious ‘blessed friend’—they must be stopped. Somewhere out there is a ghulmaker more powerful than any I’ve ever faced. I fear for our city,” Adoulla said. He took a long, messy slurp of tea and wiped the excess from his beard.

Your city, my friend, not ours, some resentful part of her protested. She’d lived in and loved Dhamsawaat for decades now, but the older she grew the more she pined to return to the Soo Republic. This city had given her meaningful work and more exciting experiences than she could count. But it was in this dirty city that her child had died. It was in this too-crowded city that her husband had grown older than his years. She did not want to die saving this place — not without having seen home again.

She spoke none of this, of course. And she sat complacently as Dawoud said, “Whatever help you need from us is yours, brother-of-mine. Whatever this is you are facing, you will not face it alone.” For a long while, the three of them sat sipping tea…

That was great! And so rare! Here we are in a fantasy novel and someone has thought subtly of her own feelings and motivations. The city Adoullah loves is, to Litaz, also the (exciting, cool, but…) dirty city where her child died. We are treated to a person who helps her friend loyally and is about to be heroic, though she has mixed feelings about it all, and doesn’t see the situation the way he does or the way her husband does.

The “of course”, thrown in offhand, on how she didn’t speak up to discuss this, was nicely done. She doesn’t behave in an out of place woman-fighting-patriarchy way (as so many annoying perky princesses unfortunately and pluckily and fakely do) and she is in control of her situation. And suddenly all the characters seemed to bloom as different from each other and as people, on their own tracks, rather than little representations of “people” who (as if their labor of existence were ultimately exploited by a capitalist machine) serve either the story or the Hero. I hope this conveys something of what charmed me. And I wish that charm wasn’t so rare.

Now to read on. I hope Litaz doesn’t die saving the city, and gets to go back to the Soo Republic and have a nice life being the best alkhemist ever.

It was a nice day but a tiring day; I had a very annoying bus driver and was filled with rage and sadness and confusion on the way to work (about which more later); I put it behind me, I worked hard, had a really nice lunch with co-workers, worked more, rode the bus home while working some more, thought fondly of my friends, made dinner for Oblomovka’s daughter (he is in Hong Kong for the circumvention conference), saw her and Taren off to the Exploratorium, listened to all the Perfume Genius songs twice indulging in a sort of luxurious solitary melancholy (instead of reading aloud and responsibly telling a small human to brush her teeth and put her pajamas on and get in bed twentyeleventy times), and read my friend Gina’s book draft (the Perfume Genius songs were in honor of her book, to go with it). I look forward extremely to reading more and the later versions.