[Beware: Spoiler’s Ahead!]
Saladin Ahmed’s novel, “Throne of the Crescent Moon,” is the first book in a series and was a nominee for both the Nebula and the Hugo awards. I found this to be a quick, compelling read, and I appreciated the inclusion of older protagonists. Many people have noted the significance of this novel pulling more from Middle Eastern culture and stories instead of being Eurocentric like a great deal of fantasy stories. However, I found myself the most fascinated by the portrayal of stratification in the novel. According to Conley, stratification is “systematic inequalities between groups of people that arise as intended or unintended consequences of social processes and relationships.” This means that people are ordered into hierarchies depending on the categories to which they belong. When considering a social class system like the United States has, birth certainly matters in the sorting process, but so does individual achievement. This is an open system, or one that allows for at least some social mobility. On the other hand, some societies are more rigid with closed systems, where their position in the hierarchy at birth impacts their entire life. If their parents worked in a particular occupation, then the children will, too.
The book explores stratification in several ways. For example, Dawoud Son-of-Wajeed and his spouse are from another region of the world. The tensions between the Red River Soo and the Blue River Soo are sociologically intriguing. He thinks, “Being a rich Blue River girl prepared her for having men carry her on their backs” (194). Due to his beliefs, he walks on his hour and a half journey to the palace rather than treat other people like animals.
This walk functions as an exploration of stratification in their society. On his walk, Dawoud notes the differences in the availability of sellers of delicacies. While all neighborhoods had chicken sellers, Poulterer’s Row includes delicacies like “purple partridge, sun-dove, heron-stuffed swan” and it was the only place in the city where you could get pickled ostrich eggs (194). (If you are interested in shocking food from around the world, you can watch this video on “Extreme Eats” from National Geographic. It does contain brief, non-sexualized nudity and causes discomfort for many viewers. I show the first twenty minutes.) Finally, Dawoud gets to the opulent palace, and reflects on the new Khalif, who had never seen any battle due to his privilege. When Dawoud finally receives an audience from the Khalif, he speaks directly to the Khalif, which is considered highly deviant.
Dawoud makes a fascinating point in this scene. The Khalif holds court from “a strange gold lattice box, the size of a small carriage” and his court is not allowed to see his body (199). Dawoud reflects “[t]his is what Adoulla—and that mad Falcon Prince he admires so much—do not see: that everyone pays a price for how the world works, even the so called powerful. The power is a trap as well.” The reason I think this point is one worth reflecting on is that there can be negative consequences of both having power and lacking it in an unjust society. For a couple of examples, a patriarchal structure can harm men, in addition to women. Certainly, women face much more stigmatization and discrimination due to their subordinate position in society, but men can also be restrained from achieving their best selves by assumptions they have to be tough, etc. The structure of society ensnares everyone, although not in precisely the same way depending on your place in the hierarchy.
Perhaps the most important meditation on stratification in the book is that of Pharaad Az Hammaz, the Falcon Prince. The Falcon Prince is a controversial figure; he’s viewed quite differently by the various point of view characters. Some view him as a folk hero, punishing the powerful and wealthy for their maltreatment of the less privileged. In his introductory scene, he stops the execution of a child by killing the executioner. He possessed “a small army of beggars and thieves,” and he was supported by some of the ministers in the government through secret payments. Eventually, he raids the palace to murder the Khalif and his son. It turns out that the Khalif’s son actually views the Falcon Prince as a hero. Returning to the previous theme, the Falcon Prince points out that the young Prince has been a prisoner of his father for years. In the end, the Falcon Prince becomes the ruler, which may avert civil war. But will he be able to rule any more justly than the others? Or will he just fit into an already corrupt system and fail to make a difference? I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book and seeing if stratification is addressed further.