The Lions of Al-Rassan

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The Lions of Al-Rassan
Author Guy Gavriel Kay
Cover artist Mel Odom
Country USA
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Harper Prism
Publication date
May 1995
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 510
ISBN 0-06-105217-5
OCLC 32089602

The Lions of Al-Rassan is a work of historical fantasy by Guy Gavriel Kay. It is set in a peninsula of the same world in which The Sarantine Mosaic and The Last Light of the Sun are set, and is based upon Moorish Spain. The novel concentrates on the relationships between the three peoples: the Kindath (based on the Jews), the Asharites (based on the Muslims), and the Jaddites (based on the Christians). (The actual religions of the Kindath, Asharites, and Jaddites, as described in the novel, bear no relation to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.)

The three protagonists in the novel are from each of these three races and religions: Jehane bet Ishak, a Kindath physician in Fezana (loosely based on Rebecca of York); Rodrigo Belmonte, a Jaddite captain of a company of cavalry (loosely based on El Cid); and Ammar ibn Khairan, an Asharite poet, mercenary, and advisor to King Almalik of Cartada (loosely based on ibn Ammar).

Plot summary[edit]

Like most of Kay's novels, this contains a large amount of political intrigue and religious strife. At the opening of the novel, the peninsula of Al-Rassan (formerly known as Esperaňa when under Jaddite control) is split between three Jaddite kingdoms in the north (Valledo, Ruenda and Jaloña) and Asharite kingdoms in the south, of which Cartada and Ragosa figure most prominently in the story. After centuries of being dominated by the Asharites, the Jaddite kingdoms are regaining their strength, while the once-powerful khalifate of Al-Rassan is divided and vulnerable.

In Fezana, a city in the north of Al-Rassan close to the borderlands with Valledo, Jehane unwittingly prevents one of her patients, a merchant named Husari ibn Musa, from being executed by Almalik of Cartada during a purge of Fezana's leading citizens. By giving the Husari shelter when the danger is revealed, Jehane puts her own life in danger. As a result, she flees Fezana at the same time that the Jaddite commander Rodrigo Belmonte of Valledo and his company have come to Al-Rassan for their parias gold - regular tribute given to the Jaddite kingdoms. Some of the Valledans brutally attack a village outside the walls of Fezana and Rodrigo steps in to halt the slaughter of the villagers, incurring the wrath of one of the participants in the slaughter, Garcia de Rada, the brother of the powerful constable of Valledo. As a result of his punishment of de Rada, Rodrigo is exiled by King Ramiro. Rodrigo and Jehane make their way to Ragosa, to the court of King Badir.

When Asharite King Almalik of Cartada betrays Ammar ibn Khairan, Ammar joins forces with the king's heir (also called Almalik) and assassinates the father. The new king Almalik II then exiles Ammar from Cartada and Ammar also travels to Ragosa. Rodrigo, Ammar and Jehane are brought together in the court of King Badir, where Ammar and Rodrigo are hired as mercenaries, and where Jehane is hired as a physician. They form a close connection which forms the heart of the story. Jehane becomes the focus of the attentions of the two men, with a love triangle of sorts forming and becoming more convoluted by the fact that Rodrigo Belmonte is already happily married with two sons, Fernan and Diego.

The admiration of the two men for each other is obvious, as they are the 'best' each nation has to offer. However the shelter and stability they find in the wealthy and worldly city of Ragosa is threatened by events occurring far beyond the city walls. The Jaddites begin a holy war against the Asharite kingdoms of Soriyya and Ammuz, in a rough parallel to the Crusades. Clerics from Ferrieres urge the kings of the Jaddite kingdoms of Esperaňa to launch their own wars of reconquest against their Asharite neighbours. To the south of Al-Rassan, in the Majriti Desert lands, the Muwardis, who practice a stricter version of the Asharite religion, are impelled to intervene in the affairs of Al-Rassan, as much to repel the Jaddites as to cleanse the Asharite lands of their luxury-loving leaders. Both the Jaddites and the Asharites also exhibit violent outbreaks against the Kindath. Jehane's father, the famed physician Ishak ben Yonannon and her mother, Eliane, are rescued by Rodrigo just as a violent mob in Fezana storm the Kindath quarter with the intent of massacring its residents. Ishak then performs an astonishing operation on Diego, the young son of Rodrigo, who has been savagely assaulted by the Muwardi.

The deep loyalties of Rodrigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn Khairan to Valledo and Cartada respectively mean that their eventual conflict becomes inevitable. The two finally meet on the battlefield, each at the head of opposing armies. The two commanders duel and one is killed. The story concludes with an afterword set some years in the future, which reveals firstly that the Jaddite kingdoms have recaptured Al-Rassan (mirroring the Reconquista) and eventually the identity of the victor of the duel.

Major themes[edit]

The interplay between bigotry and tolerance is a major theme of the novel. The stories of the main characters are interwoven in such a way that each is responsible for saving the lives of persons who are loved by the others. The surgery to save Diego Belmonte is seen as a key event: "In this scene, the son of a Jaddite warleader is saved through an Asharite's warning and a Kindath's medical skill; it hints at the possibility of peaceful interaction among the three embattled religious groups."[1] The possibility of cooperation between people of different faith is glimpsed as an ideal that leads to the miraculous, in this case an extraordinary act of surgery. It is in the Epilogue, in the Kindath city of Sorenica, rebuilt after its destruction by Jaddites at the outset of their holy war, where the possibilities of co-existence are realized.[2]

The uses and misuses of religion for political ends are also demonstrated in the novel, with rulers and clergy using religion to manipulate the people and their leaders into desired courses of action.[3]

The definition of civilization and the search for the attributes of a civilized society in a hard divided world is another theme of the novel. Kay characterizes the relatively liberal and tolerant Asharite city of Ragosa or the Kindath city of Sorenica as places of civilization. Silvenes, the capital of the former Khalifate of Al-Rassan, now ruined and largely abandoned, is seen wistfully as the symbol of civilization lost. In contrast, the cruder Jaddite cities of Esperaña with their increasing military power and the ascetic desert communities of the Muwardi Asharites are places with fewer of the attributes of civilization.

While Kay presents war and conquest with an air of nobility and grandeur, the novel also constantly reminds the reader of the real price of war paid in bloodshed, loss and grief.[4]

Trivia[edit]

The Lions of Al-Rassan was the official novel for the World Scholar's Cup in 2010.

Awards[edit]

  • Geffen Award (Translated Fantasy Books) nominee, 2005

References[edit]

  1. ^ Holly Ordway, The World-Building of Guy Gavriel Kay, PhD thesis http://www.brightweavings.com/scholarship/worldbuilding.htm
  2. ^ Dena Taylor, Three Glasses of Wine: The Accommodation of Culture in The Lions of Al-Rassan http://www.brightweavings.com/scholarship/denalions.htm
  3. ^ Dena Taylor, Three Glasses of Wine: The Accommodation of Culture in The Lions of Al-Rassan http://www.brightweavings.com/scholarship/denalions.htm
  4. ^ Rob Kilheffer, Review of The Lions of Al-Rassan for Fantasy and Science-Fiction Magazine, retrieved from Brightweavings, the Worlds of Guy Gavriel Kay http://www.brightweavings.com/reviews/revlions.htm#washington