Fantasy fiction is most commonly set in imaginary worlds that strongly resemble Norse or Celtic Europe at various points in the Dark Ages or High Middle Ages. Some authors in the genre have recently striven for a more original setting. One of these is Ahmed Saladin, a nominee for both Hugo and Nebula awards for his short fiction.
The book begins with an elderly magician of sorts, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, sipping his favorite beverage, kardamom tea, and contemplating retirement. But he can’t retire, since he’s the last surviving specialist in the necessary craft of ghul-slaying. “Ghul,” I should mention, is an alternate spelling of “ghoul.” You know about ghouls, don’t you? Supernatural critters who feast on freshly buried corpses? Well, ghouls are a feature of Muslim folklore, and were first made familiar to the West in the pages of “The Arabian Nights.” Saladin’s ghuls are worse, because they feast upon the living. The book contains several macabre encounters with these beasties, who in some ways resemble zombie more than traditional ghuls.
Saladin artfully juggles several different points of view, as Makhslood’s latest foray into ghul-bashing involves him in an elaborate intrigue between his ruler, the Khalifa of Dhamsawaat, and the Falcon Prince, who craves the Khalifa’s throne. The various plot threads are artfully woven together and lead the reader to a slam-bang finish in the Khalifa’s throne room, which I found thoroughly enjoyable. I award “Throne” five stars, and heartily recommend it to anyone who has a taste for fantasy but is bored with dragons, elves, and cauldron-stirring wizards.