As my favorite mug states so succinctly, “So Many Books, So Little Time”. Here’s the next “Books Off the Shelf” installment.
THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN
By Guy Gavriel Kay
Rating: 10 out of 10
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.
“Who knows love?
Who says he knows love?
What is love, tell me.”
There are books, occasional and rare books, which leave me sitting in silence at their ending. The sense of loss, the beauty glimpsed but turned ethereal just before I can hold it close, is enough to bring tears. THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN is one of these rare books. The power of its passing left me with a tragic desire to share…something, to love, and endeavor, and strive to be…someone.
I realize these are all feints, all half-described, half-understood sentiments. I fear they are all I have at present to offer you my bequest for you to read this book.
I have gone on at some length on more than one occasion about Kay’s work and my overarching recommendation that You Need To Read His Books. Always delightful. Always powerful. Always leaving the reader (that’s you and me in this case) satisfied. No, more than satisfied, longing. Not just longing for more story, but longing for more life and more in life. Longing to be better, offer more, be more. If you have read “Leaf by Niggle” by J.R.R. Tolkien, perhaps you see what I am saying. This is at least as true if not more true for The Lions Of Al-Rassan as it is for Kay’s other books.
I digress, but the point is, you really need to read Kay, all of it. I’m always a proponent for starting at the beginning, but THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN would be a fantastic starting point as well.
In this novel, Kay offers us a world, or at least a nation, reminiscent of Spain in medieval times. Through war, intrigue, and battle, The Lions Of Al-Rassan paints a backdrop for the story of love, both romantic and brotherly, as the lives of Rodrigo, Ammar, and Jehane unfold. In them we glimpse enough joy, potential, and promise to hope that in them, at least, the destructive nature of a fallen world might be overcome.
There is tragedy too, enough to force tears from the most hardened poet’s eyes. Even then, though, there is hope, or maybe just the promise of hope.
I’ve said before, that I try to keep this Books Off The Shelf posts as spoiler free as possible. To that end, I will leave it here, but first let me say again, that you need to read this book.
Have you read THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it or any of Kay’s books. And as ever, if you have suggestions of books to review, please let me know. If it is Science Fiction or Fantasy, there is a good chance it is on my shelf or should be.
If you would like to be the first to hear about other great books, feel free to sign up on the right. I’m also giving away the first couple chapters of my debut novel, MIST FALCON, right now. I would love to send it your way, so do me a favor and sign up.
And remember to read with joy.
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Ryan J. Doughan