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The Lions of al-Rassan Paperback – June 28, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Canadian attorney Kay has eschewed the courtroom thriller for fantasy (A Song for Arbonne, etc.). Here he draws on the crumbling empire of medieval Spain to inspire this tale of brutality and romance. Though the setting is the fictitious Al-Rassan, and there are passing references to the "Star-born," any ancillary connection with science fiction is almost irrelevant to the story. Kay provides insightful glimpses into the goals and motives of his many characters, including King Almalik of Cartada, his advisor Ammar ibn Khairan, a young soldier, Alvar de Pellino, and the compelling female physician Jehane. Mindful of the confusion that alternate universes can create for readers, Kay is careful to periodically summarize the current positions of the various factions in the struggles between the many kingdoms in the empire. Studded with poetry that is evocative of Spain (some selections are reminiscent of El Cid), the story is buttressed with convincing cultural and social details and descriptions of medicine as it was practiced in the 12th century. Genre fans looking for more romance and strong female character development will find this an engrossing tale.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Kay's thoroughly excellent new novel resembles his Song for Arbonne (1992) in that there is no magic in it. Instead, Kay deftly and intelligently bends history at a slightly different angle. The setting is a variant early medieval Spain whose Muslims, Christians, and Jews are also suitably modified. The story turns on the rivalries between the Kingdom of Al-Rassan, once mighty but now split into quarreling principalities, and the kings of the Jaddites. Far to the north, the Jaddites hope to reclaim Al-Rassan, which was once theirs. Into this skillfully imagined, eloquently described stew of war, intrigue, and magnificence happen a warrior from each side and a female physician. The threesome's adventures constitute the bulk of a long but never padded, demanding but enormously rewarding novel. Roland Green --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
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Things I Liked:
Kay's style, as mentioned, is superb. There's a thread of charisma running throughout his characterization that makes all of the characters in this book have a sense of depth to them, not to mention the fact they're just all really talented and interesting people. Even the unimportant characters feel fleshed out. This finesse of description and emotion carries over to the locales, which all feel as if they have history and heart to them (probably owing to the historical basis of Moorish Spain that this novel owes as a basis).
Jehane is particularly noteworthy as the kind of female character I'd like to see more of. She is professional, capable, and strong-willed and I enjoyed the perspective she brought as a woman struggling with her role in a world that didn't respect her religion or her gender.
Lastly, I very much enjoyed the theme of individuals from various backgrounds coming together, despite their religious differences and a time of war that would usually tear them apart. Loyalty, justice, and patriotism all play a part in their trials and tribulations.
Things I Didn't Like:
The novel started out very strong but I feel about a third of the way through, it took an anticlimactic turn as far as major character motivations went and the rest of the novel was spent meandering through their various adventures. This made the middle somewhat of a slog, despite the beautiful writing, which was probably what kept me going through the slower parts.
As much as I love Jehane, it felt somewhat contrived that either she was in love with the other two amazingly awesome charismatic men or they were in love with her. Romance is fine, but it's acceptable every now and again to have a man and a woman be good friends. It is possible. The love triangle (and occasional square) seemed very played up for melodrama.
Finally, as much as I love the lyrical nature of Kay's style, I felt physical description to be sadly lacking by comparison when it came to the characters, beyond a mention of hair and eye color. I feel like I can still envision them, but would've liked more. This is a personal preference, however, as the personality descriptions were so strong I can build my own vision of them and that is perhaps what Kay was after writing in this way.
Who Would I Recommend This Book To?
Fans of more down to earth mature fantasy will enjoy this story, as it has more in common with historical novels than it does with fantasy epics full of magic. The magic here exists in the power of willful individuals to change the course of history and in Kay's masterful ability to create an immersive world full of patriots, heroes, and zealots in all shades of grey.
Another aspect of Lions is the almost impossible situations some of the characters find themselves in; especially when it comes to love and loyalty...so many lines are crossed and in such a way that the differences between Jaddite-Asharite-Kindath pale in significance to the individuals involved. The Kindath physician Jehane, the poet/warrior Ammar, the Jaddite warrior Rodrigo and many others, provide the reader with characters so fully developed as to make the story seem historical rather than a fantasy account.
So, my peeps and fellow travelers, prepare for an emotion filled, heart tugging tale from a master at his craft. 5 stars...or maybe two moons...or maybe just the Sun..read the book, you'll get what I mean. :-)
I have quibbles. Occasionally, the author withheld information from the reader that I felt should have been disclosed (for instance, when the information was known and important to the point-of-view character). The sections summarizing the sweep of events are less compelling than those anchored in a character's perspective. The prose is beautiful, sometimes haunting, and there is a heightened nature to the characters, who approach ideals -- both these things are part of what draws me so to Guy Gavriel Kay's work, and yet sometimes they set me at a slight remove from the story.
They are only quibbles. I love this book, its arc, its grace, its sensibilities, the sadness inherent in it. The two men at the center who are each other's match. How they reach toward each other against the tide of the world.