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The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
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The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995)

by Guy Gavriel Kay

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,245642,855 (4.3)1 / 342
  1. 60
    Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Anonymous user)
  2. 20
    The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett (Anonymous user)
  3. 00
    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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English (63)  French (1)  All languages (64)
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
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 |
I'm a fan of El Cid, so this fantasy is harmonious with some of my day-dreams. The Map is a serious drawback, as the peninsula is not, I believe conducive to developing the societies in the story. but Kay wries well and the result is a second-class work compared to "the Last Light of the Sun" , "Under heaven" or the Sarantium books. It is still worth the money to most readers. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Apr 16, 2014 |
Originally posted at http://www.fantasyliterature.com

In the turbulent region that used to be the stable empire of Al-Rassan, petty kings vie for power. Each of these rulers is ambitions and clever, but none of them has been able to acquire his position without the help of others — crafty advisors, brave army commanders, brilliantly inventive doctors, devoted wives and children — and sometimes the same people who have served them well are the same ones who may later cause their downfall.

The Lions of Al-Rassan is the story of a few of these people, how they worked for (and sometimes against) the rulers they pledged to serve, and how they brought about the rise and fall of nations. The infamous Ammar ibn Khairan — King Almalik’s soldier, advisor, assassin, and poet — is known as the man who assassinated the last Khalif of al-Rassan. The notorious Rodrigo Belmonte — King Ramiro’s best commander — is the most feared soldier in the region. Jehane bet Ishak, a woman who’s ahead of her time, is the stubborn but brilliant daughter of a famous physician. These three, who share different religious beliefs but the same uncompromising personal standards, will have a profound effect on each other and the fate of an empire — not just because of what they do, but also because of their influence on the people they meet along the way.

Like Guy Gavriel Kay’s other works, The Lions of Al-Rassan is well-researched historical fiction (this one hardly counts as fantasy). The setting is similar to the Reconquista and the Crusades of Moorish Spain, though the religions Kay uses are not actually based on Christianity, Judaism and Islam (even though the character and place names sound like they are). Also like Kay’s other stories, The Lions of Al-Rassan is full of political intrigue, romance, poetry and lots of passion. The setting is epic, the characters are epic, and the conflict is epic, but rather than focusing on the grand picture with its galloping armies and bloody battles, Kay has us view a series of small significant moments in which the acts of our three heroes, who learn to love each other despite their differences, influence the big events.

If you’ve read any GGK at all, you know that he loves to create vivid characters that are worthy of the grand settings they find themselves in. His villains are ambitious, brutal, and ruthless. His heroes are brilliant, clever, subtle, witty, dangerous, ahead of their time, and multi-talented (e.g., Ammar ibn Khairan is an excellent fighter, diplomat, advisor, scholar, poet, and lover). Nobody wants to read about dull characters, but Kay’s characters are so impressive that they stretch the bounds of belief. They’re also incredibly introspective and philosophical. They regularly spend pages at a time talking to themselves in their own heads — considering their feelings, reflecting on their past successes and failures, analyzing the motives and behaviors of others, and contemplating the future.

As much as I admire Kay’s characters, sometimes I wish they would stop thinking and just get a move on. The Lions of Al-Rassan could have used a little more action; much of the conflict resolution actually occurs off-screen between the last chapter and the epilogue. Kay elevates the tension and drama by using cliffhangers, intentionally withholding information, and even playing a trick on the reader in the epilogue. While I’ve read most of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, I haven’t been able to completely embrace his style which is somewhat melodramatic and manipulative and, therefore, intrudes into the story as if it were a character in its own right.

If you’re a fan of Kay’s work, The Lions of Al-Rassan will almost certainly please you — Kay uses the same formula here, just in a different setting with a different plot. His characters are bold and full of life, and they live and love in a tumultuous world.

The audio version of The Lions of Al-Rassan, recently produced by Audible Frontiers, is outstanding. Euan Morton, who also read A Song for Arbonne, has the required strong masculine voice, yet reads the female roles well, too. His voice is suitably dramatic (yet not overly so) and his pace and cadence are flawless. This was a great production and highly recommended. I do suggest having a list of character names to view, however, because many of them sound similar at first. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guy Gavriel Kayprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Odom, MelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:09 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

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)

» see all 2 descriptions

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