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The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995)

by Guy Gavriel Kay

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2,272662,813 (4.3)1 / 356
Recently added byDaveybs67, INorris, private library, timefort, Ishimura, TempleCat, kylebarber87, Carol_W, racast5
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    Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Anonymous user)
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    The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett (Anonymous user)
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    The Tyranny of the Night by Glen Cook (Jarandel)
    Jarandel: Both a simile, with Fantasy treatment, of European history in the era of the Crusades. Lions of Al-Rassan centers on the Spanish Reconquista, while the Tyranny of the Night has a wider scope.

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Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
After River of Stars, I felt I had to read another work by Kay to see how much of the first was unique to that book. I think I now have a good feel for Kay. He starts with historical settings, but then creates his own world based on them. You can’t even call this an alternate history. Cleary this book is based on medieval Spain in the time El Cid, with its clash of peoples from three major religions, but instead of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, he calls them Jadists, Asharites, and Kindrath, and they worship sun, stars, and moons (there are two), respectively. Similarly, all of the city names are his inventions. I didn’t even try to match up his places with sites on the Iberian Peninsula.

Kay's writing is very impressive in that he can make the events of people’s lives feel really significant almost no matter what they are. The three central characters in this story, one woman and two men, are all extraordinary people and the events they live through in this book are unquestionably of great significance to them. When all is said and done, though, this story is really just a mirror for the Christian re-conquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims who had conquered it centuries before – with Jews caught in the middle. Even though I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened at the end until the last few pages, there was still a certain inevitability about the whole thing. It’s not a “good” ending, certainly not a happy ending for all involved, but Kay makes it feel like a necessary ending. It was the power of his writing that held me through to the conclusion of this glorious train-wreck.
Really, what this book is about is honor and integrity on the one hand and friendship, love and beauty on the other, and how the first sometimes necessitates the destruction of the second. ( )
  Carol_W | Sep 9, 2015 |
I loved this book. The story is seductive and engaging, the characters are adult, well-rounded and sophisticated, the writing style is very versatile: it offers both lavish descriptions, witty dialogues, elegant poetry, emotion and brutal detachment to a great, immersive effect. Subtle, delicate, harrowing, the plot entertains and develops with depth of themes, drama, humour and evenly paced action. It is historical fantasy, with little or none fantastic elements.

The characters and the current geo-polical situation are introduced following a routine day in the life of the physician Jehane bet Ishak, of the ostracized Kindaith faith, in one of the main cities of the Asharite land of Al-Rassan. She is a woman with agency in lands and in an age where it is difficult to be such, fighting for her autonomy standing on her own merits. Along with her, we met Ammar ibn Khairan of Aljais, the poet who murdered the last khalif of Silvanes, debonair, beguiling and Asharite, and the former constable of Valledo, Rodrigo Belmonte, strong, possessed of a keen intelligence and Jaddite.

“You touched people’s lives, glancingly, and those lives changed forever.”

The different factions come alive thought the book with impeccable timing, while the story deepens and the reader gains more insight about the political strife within and without the kingdoms. Though the relationship between the three main characters (and the relationship between the two men, a real masterpiece) is one of the main elements of the book, the whole cast offers an interesting variety of human types and implications, much to the delight of the reader who likes both character and action-driven books, surely not an easy balance to achieve. The author blends different cultures into a beguiling tale of warring states, sultry decline, petty revenges, human ambition, atrocities, greed and religious hatred, but also love, loyalty, growth, understanding and healing, where people pay the price of pursuing their dreams, and where the free will of the characters, and chance history, will shape the future of a whole land.

“It isn’t a dream any more. The world has changed. When you can do what you dreamed about, sometimes it isn’t … as simple any more.”

The whole book feels meticulously researched and it adds a lot to the realism of the events and the many skills of the characters, as Kay takes the historical patterns of the time of the Reconquista, and of the three main Faiths as recorded in such turbulent centuries. He opens the story in a moment of simmering conflict and precarious balance between two main cultures, with the minority group of another aware of the need to cope with the consequences. In the echoes of a long time ago peninsula Iberica, I found many points to think about our world current situation, the complexity born of mingling religion and politics, the nature of ambitions, the inevitability of change and surely, the bittersweet beauty of human condition.

“The deeds of men, as footprints in the desert.”

That is one of the main reasons I love fantasy literature: it is all about us, with imagination and the gloves off.

"War was good, a holy war was the best thing in the world."

Moving in the shift winds that herald change, forever, the factions meet, clash, mingle, offer empty platitudes or forge timeless bonds, show weaknesses and strengths. Beneath the most evident messages, such as the possibility of a civilized world which shuns prejudice and fanaticism, there is a fascinating highlight on the power of self, on the impact of choices, on the beauty and pain of some experiences, on the longing for lost grace and the renewal of hope. Kay does not portray helpless humanity or perfect heroes, nor does he shy from the consequences of the morality and the violence of those times.

“Over and above all this, of course, there was pride. There was always pride.”

I picked the The Lions of Al-Rassan thanks to all the great recommendations I received as a reader who loves [a:Janny Wurts|8591|Janny Wurts|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1311431926p2/8591.jpg]. This kind of stories is not easy, for structure, for nuances, for complexity and themes, for the many explorations of the gamut of the human spirit, but they are of utmost fulfilling emotional reward. In a book, I want to be entertained; I want to laugh at clever humor and read about compelling characters, layered and ever developing, I want to follow an engaging story, unpredictable, twisty and original; I want to read great prose. But the books that I will always remember are those which stir something in me, and I both embrace and eschew this kind of sensations, because it can also be a little scary. The beauty of focusing my thoughts, of living a book, is also the risk to let the reading touch me deeply, to let my feelings be vulnerable to what a story, an author is prompting me to experience for myself. The Lions of Al-Rassan resonated with my inner chords and I am drained, but grateful.

“One sun for the god. Two moons for his beloved sisters. Uncountable stars to shine in the night.” ( )
  Alissa- | Jun 5, 2015 |
The Lions of Al-Rassan is hard to describe. It’s usually classed as a fantasy, sometimes an epic fantasy more often as a historical fantasy, which is probably the best name for it. I.e. there’s no magic or dragons or unusual world building. Instead, it’s an alternate version of the reconquest of Spain. The names and theology of the religions have been changed, but it’s very obvious which ones are the equivalents for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Against this background, there are an almost overwhelming number of characters. Luckily, the book comes with a character guide at the beginning – you’ll need it. Three characters really stand out: Ammar ibn Khairan, Rodrigo Belmonte, and Jehane bet Ishak. Each of these three characters comes from a different faith and culture, yet their fates become intertwined. Ammar is the chief adviser of the king of Cartada in Al-Rassan until a day of savagery changes everything. Rodrigo is the most famous military leader of Vallado, one of the three northern Jaddite (Christian) kingdoms. Jehane is a woman in a man’s world, a accomplished physician of the Kindath (Jewish) faith.

This is what I find The Lions of Al-Rassan does best – taking these disparate characters and weaving together their friendship. However, with the Iberian peninsula on the brink of Holy War, nothing can stay unchanged. The ending wasn’t completely tragic, but I can’t call it happy either.

The Lions of Al-Rassan is slow to start out. Yes, things are happening, but there’s not a feeling of overwhelming urgency until four hundred pages in. That, along with the hoard of character’s, is the flaw of the book. It’s not an easy read – you will have to dedicate your time and your attention. However, if you’re prepared for a book that requires some brain power and if you have a passing interest in history or historical fiction, you will find The Lions of Al-Rassan worthwhile. ( )
  pwaites | Aug 1, 2014 |
A big disappointment after other Kay I've read and really liked. Fantasy take on Muslim and Christian medieval Spain, with a Jewish heroine. ( )
  janerawoof | Jul 24, 2014 |
Full review: http://tenaciousreader.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/the-lions-of-al-rassan-by-guy-ga...

Guy Gavriel Kay has been on my “must try” list for years. I have heard him recommended so many times and I have come across devoted fans that will praise his prose endlessly. And on top of that, he writes stand-alone novels, so there is no fear of commitment here. With all of that, I have no idea why I have not read one of his novels previously. But, I nominated The Lions of Al-Rassan for one of my book club reads and happily it won. No more excuses, it was time to actually read.

So, now that I have read it, do I think it is worthy of the praise I have heard? Absolutely.

One of the first things I took note about this book is that it is brutal. At least there is a very brutal scene in the beginning. I was surprised just because I have never heard that mentioned of Kay’s books before. And reading on, I don’t know if it is indicative of all his books, but for this one, it made so much sense for him to capture atrocities of war and present them to the reader for this particular book. Because when it’s all said and read, this book is about war. It’s about intolerance, differences in religions and cultures and how people stereotype and treat each other. It is also about how people don’t need to be evil to be driven to carry out what would otherwise be evil deeds. It’s all in the name of war or religion. Or both. It would be hard to really drive home the brutality of war without showing it. There is a shock value there that just can’t be accomplished otherwise. And I’m not saying that Kay is very graphic, he’s not. It’s just the events themselves that are harsh.

Kay's prose, story telling, world building and characters are all just beautifully done.I highly recommend this book to anyone, and I look forward to reading my next book by Kay. ( )
  tenaciousreader | May 24, 2014 |
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Guy Gavriel Kayprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Odom, MelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The evening is deep inside me forever

Many a blond, northern moonrise,

like a muted reflection, will softly

remind me and remind me again and again.

It will be my bride, my alter ego.

An incentive to find myself. I myself

am the moonrise of the south.

Paul Klee, The Tunisian Diaries
For Harry Karlinksy and Mayer Hoffer, after thirty-five years.
First words
Always remember they come from the desert.
It was just past midday, not long before the third summons to prayer, that Ammar ibn Khairan passed through the Gate of the Bells and entered the Al-Fontina in Silvenes to kill the last of the khalifs of Al-Rassan. [prologue]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060733497, Paperback)

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, diplomat, 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. Sharing their interwoven fate -- and increasingly torn by her feelings -- is Jehane, the accomplished court physician, whose own skills play an increasing role as Al-Rassan is swept to the brink of holy war, and beyond.

Hauntingly evocative of medieval Spain, The Lions of Al-Rassan is both a brilliant adventure and a deeply compelling story of love, divided loyalties, and what happens to men and women when hardening beliefs begin to remake -- or destroy -- a world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:59 -0400)

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In 12th Century Spain, the romance of Jehane bet Ishak, a woman doctor who falls in love with two men at once, Gen. Ammar ibn Khairan and Gen. Rodrigo Belmonte. When the generals go to war against each other, Jehane faces a difficult choice. Lots of period detail, the protagonists representing the three cultures, Jewish, Moorish and Christian.… (more)

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