Influences aren’t just things as a writer that you pull from — they can also be things that you push against. And sometimes you do both at once. Saladin Ahmed knows about this; in his widely acclaimed debut Throne of the Crescent Moon (which has garnered starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews) he’s looked at his favorite works both as inspiration and things to rebel against. What are those works, and what are their qualities and flaws, as Ahmed sees them? He’s here to tell you.
The Big Idea behind Throne of the Crescent Moon had to do with writing something that was both an homage and a response to the heroic fantasy I grew up reading and watching. I was born in post-race riots Detroit at the beginning of the slow social and economic meltdown of that city. I grew up down the street, in the working-class Arab American enclave of Dearborn, MI. My Dad was a union activist and community organizer who instilled in me pride in my Arab heritage and a strong sense of social justice, but also a deep love for fantasy and science fiction.
Fast forward 30 years, and these things are still a big part of my consciousness. Sometimes, over the years, they’ve bumped up against each other, and Throne of the Crescent Moon is my first attempt to…transcribe the sound of that bumping, if that makes any sense.
But concrete examples are sometimes more useful than such abstraction – voila!
– I love Arya Stark and Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. But I don’t like that royalty and nobles – or royals and nobles in disguise – are almost always the main POV heroes in fantasy. So my characters are mostly lowborn.
– I love the Aiel from The Wheel of Time (and that Rand is one by blood!). But I don’t like that Fantasyland’s pseudo-Arabs are usually depicted in a marginalizing manner. So I put the pseudo-Middle East at the center of my series.
– I love Sturm Brightblade from Dragonlance . But I don’t like that fantasy novels have tended to depict holy warriors/paladins as noble and inspiring when wearing pseudo-European garb but scary when wearing pseudo-Muslim garb.
– I love Star Wars (indulge me, please, by calling it fantasy), but I don’t like the way youth and self-discovery are so often the focus on fantasy plots. So I wrote a 60-something main character who damn well knows who he is – and just wants the world to leave him the hell alone.
– I love Aragorn… But I don’t like the way heroic fantasy celebrates hereditary power so uncritically. So I slapped my heroes in the middle of a plot to usurp a dynasty.
And so on. Throne of the Crescent Moon is, in a sense, a tightrope walk. Might be I’ve fallen a few times, but I hope I’ve taken some entertaining – maybe even thrilling – steps along the way.