Book Review: The Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay

My love affair with historical fantasy novels continues, and here I will tell you about one particularly passionate fling.

Here’s the official blurb:

‘The ruling Asharites of Al-Rassan have come from the desert sands, but over centuries, seduced by the sensuous pleasures of their new land, their stern piety has eroded. The Asharite empire has splintered into decadent city-states led by warring petty kings. King Almalik of Cartada is on the ascendancy, aided always by his friend and advisor, the notorious Ammar ibn Khairan – poet, diploRead my review of one of the most beautiful and unusual historical fantasy novels I've ever read.mat, soldier – until a summer afternoon of savage brutality changes their relationship forever.

Meanwhile, in the north, the conquered Jaddites’ most celebrated – and feared – military leader, Rodrigo Belmonte, driven into exile, leads his mercenary company south.

In the dangerous lands of Al-Rassan, these two men from different worlds meet and serve – for a time – the same master. Tangled in their interwoven fate – and divided by her feelings – is Jehane, the accomplished court physician, whose skills may not be enough to heal the coming pain as Al-Rassan is swept to the brink of holy war, and beyond’.

I’ve already reviewed the Sarantine Mosaic duology by the same author; and, just as Sarantium was thinly veiled Byzantium, Al-Rassan here is Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) in its last period of flowering.

This novel creates a sweeping panorama of the dying, brilliant world. It shows an uneasy convivencia of the three faiths (Asharite/Muslim, Jaddite/Christian and Kindath/Jewish) in all its fragile beauty. While the corresponding period in our world tends to be either romanticized or vilified by actual historians, this work of fiction succeeded in creating a truly nuanced picture. The ruler of the beautiful Ragosa trusts his Kindath chancellor like no one else, but in some other cities (I will try to refrain from spoilers!) the Kindath live in a perpetual fear of pogroms. A learned Jaddite king of the north finishes building Moorish-style baths for his palace just as the High Clerics urge him towards a crusade against the infidels. The courtly culture of Al-Rassan is intricate, pretty secular, and extraordinarily beautiful, its ladies as sophisticated as the gentlemen – but their rulers tend to employ religious zealots from the desert tribes as their mercenaries.

This novel also contains one of the most beautiful, if understated, love plots I’ve ever seen in fantasy (or any other genre, for that matter).

In other words, I would urge you to read it if you enjoy unusual settings, captivating prose, deep social themes, frontier adventures, courtly intrigue, or any combination of the above.

Buy on Amazon UK

Buy on Amazon US

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