Novel Review - The Lions of Al Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Lions of Al Rassan
by Guy Gavriel Kay, 1995, 582 pages
TLDR: 4 out of 5 for a great example of what Guy Gavriel Kay can bring to the table.
This was our club pick in July of 2017.
The Lions of Al Rassan is one of a number of stand-alone novels written by Guy Gavriel Kay (GGK) in his trademark style of writing what is essentially Historic fiction but placing in it a near-earth fantasy world. If you're willing to believe in an infinity of parallel universes, it's probably easiest to think of GGK's books being set in a a universe that fairly close to ours, with a bunch of different names and a soupçon of magic.
Lions is set in not-quite Moorish Spain just as the Reconquista starts, and it feature primarily a Jaddite ("Christian") nobleman named Rodrigo, an Asharite ("Muslim") nobleman (and poet, and assassin) named Ammar, and a Kindath ("Jewish") physician named Jehane as they all get caught up in exile together from their homelands. There is a host of other, minor characters (several of whom are just as interesting as the main characters) to round out the cast. As a bromance develops between the to main characters, their respective home kingdoms draw ever close to war, and eventually they must decide between their loyalty to one another and their loyalty to the kings who exiled them.
The writing is better than competent (we can forgive a few quirks) and the story draws to a dramatic and well-wrought conclusion which I quite enjoyed. Many people report reading the end in tears. Not me - I have a heart of stone.
We read this with our Gamers book club and the reaction was mixed. About half of the group loved it (myself included).The other half was more ambivalent, either finding it hard to get into (too many foreign names, or just not grabbing their attention) or being turned off by the authorial stick-handling of the story, which is maybe a bit too obviously directed.
Recommended to fans of low fantasy who don't mind when something is nearly historical, but not quite. Also, according to our small sample, 100% of Technical Writers, Landscape Architects, and Mathematicians quite liked it.