Cons: characters full names always used, slower middle, defeat the main enemy with surprising ease
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is an old man, and one of the last true ghul hunters. When his former lover's niece is killed in a ghul attack, he hunts it, and its creator, down. Accompanying him is his apprentice, a skilled and devout Dervish. But what they find isn't an easily defeated evil man who's learned to raise a few ghuls, but monsters the likes of which the doctor has only read about in ancient storybooks.
On their quest, they meet Zamia Badawi, whose desert living band has recently met with the monsters the doctor hunts and who possesses ancient magics herself.
Meanwhile, the 'Falcon Prince', an outlaw who steals from the rich and helps the poor, is inciting rebellion against the Khalif of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms.
I really enjoyed the varied characters in the book. The Doctor is irreverent but knowledgeable in the ways of the world. By the middle of the book he's requested help from an older couple, two of his travelling companions from times past. The contrast between the experienced old people and the two teens (the apprentice and Zamia), makes for some fun scenes. The elders quickly become exacerbated by the simple beliefs of the teens, while the teens help infuse the adults with determination and belief in their eventual victory.
In addition to having older protagonists, the book also brings in characters with different backgrounds. Zamia is a tribeswoman, derided by the doctor for her people's 'barbaric' beliefs. And his friends are both from different nations. Each character had good and bad traits, as well as personal struggles to overcome in the book. They all felt like real people, with real challenges, trying to figure out what to do next when there's no right - or easy - answers.
While most of the novel took place in and around the city of Dhamsawaat, having characters from other nations helped make the larger world come alive. The city itself felt like a character at times, sprawling across the pages in all its glory. The scents, sounds and feelings of grandeur, squalor and packed humanity are vividly told, though not overbearingly so.
The beginning and ending of the book are filled with monsters, spell work and sword fighting, which makes the middle - with its numerous conversations - seem a bit dull by comparison. Important stuff happens, gathering information, resting, intrigue and gossip, but there was a stretch where it seemed talking was all that was happening.
Each character had a fairly long name and for some reason their full name was always used. I ended up abbreviating the names in my head so I could move on with the story.
Given the character's difficulties when facing one of the big bad guys, I was surprised by how quickly they dealt with all their enemies at the end of the book. While it was a satisfying ending, it seemed a bit quick for all the lead-up. Having said that, I did appreciate that each character was changed by the events of the ending. It was nice seeing that the violence and difficult choices had consequences for them.
This tale is self-contained, though it is the first of a series. Despite my minor complaints, it was a fantastic book that really pulled me into the story. I wish I'd been able to read it in a less disjointed way than I did, giving it the attention it deserved. As many other reviewers have said, Saladin Ahmed is a name to watch for.