Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Genre: Epic Fantasy
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She saw a good man raise his sword, and she saw a good man fall.
In Al-Rassan the ruling Asharites have been splintered into city states. The Asharite King of Cartada, Almalik, and his notorious advisor the great warrior and poet Ammar ibn Khairan, once close, are now at odds after a brutal summer day. North of the Asharites are the followers of Jad, who are splintered into three different kingdoms. Their most celebrated military commander, Rodrigo Belmonte, has been exiled and driven south. Jehane bet Ishak, a skilled Kindath physician, soon finds herself caught up in the events that will shape the world she lives in.
Like most Kay's novels, the story and world resemble a historical era from our own world. And The Lions of Al-Rassan is no different, as Kay draws inspiration from Spain before the unification, during the times of El Cid. The many warring kingdoms make it difficult to determine where the plot will be going in the early goings of the story, but that makes for all the more exciting of a read.
While the warring states and politics of those states drives a lot of the action of the story. The forces manipulating these states are really the religions of the region. The Asharites, whose faith most closely resembles Islam, the Jad, whose faith mostly closely resembles Christianity, and the Kindath, whose faith most closely resembles Judiasm, all bring different cultural ideas to the forefront. The good and bad sides of religion, are really explored in a subtle but no less effective way. Religion is good when it brings people together in a sense of community and instills beliefs and hope in people. Religion is not good when it is demonizing other religions or meddling in the politics of the region.
It's fitting that the three main characters of Kay's story are each devoted followers to their religion. In meeting each other they must learn to work together, despite what there religions or homelands may pressure them into doing otherwise. A lot of the plot results that come from this unity are very moving and inspiring. It's a book that I wish a lot devoted religious people would read.
The Lions of Al-Rassan always seems to be mentioned as one of the most esteemed of Kay's novels, and for good reason. This is an emotional powerhouse. His characters feel real. The plot is organic. The messages about the importance of tolerance and acceptance, refuting bigotry, and learning to work together despite your differences makes for a beautiful story. A lot of these things are staples to Kay's work, but there is a balance and pacing and aura that just seems to make this story a little more special.