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.
©1995 Guy Gavriel Kay (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
Kat at FanLit
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.
Originally posted at FanLit.
I'd say yes, but unfortunately a lot of the names of people and places in this book are phonetically similar to the point of confusion. Only towards the end of the full recording did I begin to finally separate the characters and places in my head. The pacing was also slightly hurried in parts that could use more attention. The reading was fantastic, but after hearing Simon Vance's reading of Tigana, it's hard not to keep such a standard in mind for comparison.
The part of the Echoing Valley. That's all I'll say to not give more away.
It is most definitely a tie between Rodrigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn Khairan. Rodrigo's character was simple on the surface, but his development and the care Euan Morton gave in the reading complimented him well. Where the performer shined was in his portrayal of Ammar. It was sheer poetry in the strictest sense. I can't say enough about these two characters. They both hold a solid place in my heart.
The Circling Paths of Love and War, As traced Across Both Time and The Heavens.
Maybe the people written about in this novel lived in an extraordinary time. I say that because everyone seemed so amazing and so complicated in motivation. At times though, I found myself suspending my disbelief just to go with the momentum of the book. I suppose I'd say that the story is more poetic than realistic. I feel this book would help bridge huge chasms in understanding between different religions and cultures, even those considered extremist and violent. All the cultures portrayed proved to be violent and fearful in their own ways, but then again they all had strong moral and artistic values they held in high esteem just as we all do today. It makes me feel as though my personal belief system could be small-minded, but still valid in it's own right.
There are a lot of authors whose work I read or listen too, but part of me feels like I can truly identify with Guy Gavriel Kay; like we're brothers of a sort, even if we may be from different walks of life. Sometimes his work is a stretch for me, but there's such a poetic depth to it that any small qualms I have can easily be overlooked. I also feel no medium other than printed page or spoken word could do his work justice. Even with the largest budget, putting faces to these (at times) mythical characters would rob them of the power and vitality they hold in in print and in voice.
In short, I recommend this story, but not as much as I recommend _all_ of Mr. Kay's stories. I couldn't wait to get back here to purchase another book. Thanks for reading this far, and I hope that you'll enjoy The Lions of Al-Rassan as much and as truly as I did.
This beautiful book made me cry! Euan Morton narrates this story of a land populated by peoples of three faiths, torn by war. The characters are memorable, and their intertwined stories make you think about the meaning of honour and love. The setting is an alternate world which is similar to mediaeval Spain.
You'll find me chattering and chasing shiny things.
To me this novel has it all: an epic storyline, fully fleshed out characters, and excellent pacing. It's complex without being complicated, clever without being trite, and explores conflict, and the people involved in that conflict, in shades of grey instead of black and white. Sure, there are characters and situations that are clearly bad and clearly good, but the main characters are depicted as being wholly human. And I love them all the more for it.
I don't want to rewrite a description of the book; the summary does a fine job even if it takes a completely different focus than I would. I think it's to keep from alienating the more common reader/listener of fantasy: men, as the main character of the novel is a woman.
I admit, I had a hard time with the narration. I've listened to Song for Arbonne, also written by Guy Gavriel Kay, and read by Euan Morton; it was an excellent listen. One of the problems is, I've read this book well over 20 times. It's admittedly, not the narrator's fault that he pronounces names differently than I do in my head, so I can't really criticize that. However, the accents were sometimes uneven and the language occasionally stilted. Is the narration, on the whole, bad? No, it just felt like Mr. Euan's reading skills had gotten rusty, or that he just wasn't at his best, which is a shame. This book deserves an a-game.
My most favorite book of all time is Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. This book is not as good as Under Heaven. The reader is amazing. The story is intersting. The people in the book are 3D. The adventure is complete and I recommend the book. I hope your journey is as fun as mine was.
As usual, Kay amazes me with his eye for everything from smallest details of a courtyard to the full sweep of his fictional land's history.
His characters refuse to stack neatly into neat categories like "hero" and "villain", particularly in this book. And even though they achieve great things, they are equally being swept up by events in thrilling and sometimes tragic ways.
(FYI, unlike previous books I've read by Kay, there is little magic in this one. This one is also a bit bloodier at times, but not gratuitously so I think.)
I could have used a map at times. The names of cities, provinces, kingdoms, peoples and kings come fast and furious. There is a pleasure in having a world's history and geography revealed gradually, and I was able to follow along with effort, but a quick look at a map here and there to confirm my understanding would have been nice. (I assume the printed book had a map, but I didn't find one online.)
This is an epic and emotional story, not a light read. I'll need a break before starting my next Gavriel Kay book. Most of his books are stand-alone though so I am anticipating reading more by him without the agony of waiting for the next installment of some ongoing series.
While there are many great and enjoyable fantasy authors, Kay is in a completely different league than most. Highly recommended. (If you want more magic in your fantasy epic though, maybe try Tigana first.)
I'm a web developer based out of Sacramento, I listen to books while I work, and love audible.
I vacillated between loving this book and being annoyed with it at times due to it's pacing. It is either blindingly-describe-every-tiny-detail slow or if-blink-you-missed-major-important-parts fast, with little in between.
However the story itself is brilliant, the characters are great and it kept you interested. I just wish he would have cut out some of the superfluous details and added in more when it was actually needed.
I did enjoy both story and performance. What I won't do is remember the book in six months. There really was not anything that stood out. I would have liked giving the book 3.5 (a little better than what I expected). For me the book was a little to "easy". There just wasn't enough depth and details in characters or story. It was more like a guilty pleasure.
Guy Gavriel Kay is a marvelous writer. I listen to his books and I read his books. He is a masterful storyteller. His stories go along on several different planes at the same time, no way to lose interest or become bored by a character.
As I listened I was thinking - who else can I tell about this wonderful book? People need to know about it!
Perhaps the best part of this book is the beauty of the language. It is almost like reading poetry or prose, not just a story. And the wonderful narrator enhances the joy of listening to this immensely.
The story was excellent - complex at times and required attention and the willingness to follow it carefully, but the payoff for doing so was great.
I was struck by the way the author could get behind the eyes of each character so thoroughly. As each person spoke you saw the world from their perspective. It wasn't so much as story about people and what they did as it was about what each main character thought and felt and how they perceived and related to each other. Yes there was action, but in my mind it was secondary to the telling of each character's true nature.
"Good but last quarter rushes the story"
I enjoyed this but it was odd towards the end. It feels like he was setting up a long story and could have been more than one volume. But then he just rushed to the end as not interested anymore and just needed to get to the end. Odd
"Kay brilliant as ever"
Stunning writing from Kay and good narration I have read all of his work and am always impressed by the life he breathes into his characters.
I am a huge Guy Gavriel Kay fan so the rating is for the audio, not the book. Mr Kay's works are complex with detailed characters and lots of threads running through which can make an audio version difficult to follow. I'm not sure how well I would have managed if I hadn't read the book first.
Euan Morton does a lovely job reading the book, he manages the different voices well without descending into caricature.
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