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Blade of Dream by Daniel Abraham. Cover reveal looks amazing!

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Posted by18 hours ago

Lions of Al-Rassan is a standalone novel written by Guy Gavriel Kay, set in a fictional rendition of medieval Spain, inspired by the history of El Cid. This is the second of Kay's works that I've read, and while it didn't inspire the same awe in me that Under Heaven did, it's still a book that I greatly appreciated reading. First things first: the Kindath are Jews, the Jaddites Christians, the Asharites Muslims. Remember this when you read this review, and hopefully when you read the book itself. I was confused by the terminology and names, but having this in mind helped me to navigate through the religious conflicts and references in this book. The story of Lions of Al-Rassan is spearheaded by three characters, who all come from vastly different backgrounds; Jehane, a Kindath medic, Rodrigo Belmonte, a renowned Jaddite mercenary, and Ammar Ibn Khairan, an Asharite, the man who killed the last Khalif of Al-Rassan. One of the tale's many highlights was in seeing how these three characters interacted with each other, as they each come from backgrounds that are wildly different. You could see how their backgrounds played into their interactions, and how it led to them being the people that they are today. Side characters were no different, having just enough character to get you invested in their smaller tales.

Kay's prose is as gorgeous as ever. Evocative in his description, insightful in his soliloquy. I could read an entire book of Kay simply describing bright stars and pale moons. His prose is almost magical, and every sentence he etches onto paper is enough to entrance you into his narrative.

Thematically, this book is a poetic tale about honour and duty, love, religion, and how they all tie together to form identity. Kay explores this through his characters and the overarching narrative, using them to create points of conflict and evoke complex thought, and the climax of this book brings them together, ending it on a bittersweet note. How the choices individuals make ripple through their fellow people, the choices they then make, and how all of this culminates into one monumental change are themes Kay has also explored in this book. You might notice that he explores similar themes in Under Heaven as well, and from what I have heard these are themes that are central to most, if not all of Kay's novels.

While Kay gets a lot of things right, the flaws in Lions were very prominent. The pacing suffered during the mid-section. Throughout the middle, there are POV shifts to side characters scheming and politicking. While they were necessary in building up the tragic, bittersweet conclusion of the book, it was immersion breaking for me, reducing my investment and time spent with the main characters of the tale. I suspect that this is the reason why the ending of Lions did not heavily affect me emotionally, despite its near-perfect execution; by the time I reached it, I had already lost some of the momentum and care I had during the strong start of this book.

Kay's characters are great vessels for his intended thematic exploration. But after the strong beginning, that's what they started to feel like; vessels. Because of that, I struggled to really care about these characters like how I cared about other characters in other stories. Don't get me wrong, I was still interested in their interactions, thoughts, and actions; but in the end, they didn't inspire the same level of care and emotional investment in me as strongly as other characters have. This slightly ruined my experience reading the latter half as well despite the stellar prose, because I struggled to feel as much emotion as I expected and wanted to during my time spent with the pages.

In conclusion, Lions of Al-Rassan is a poetic tale about honour, love, religion that shines, despite it's prominent flaws. This book is inconsistent compared to Under Heaven, in terms of pacing, writing and plot. I'm still rating this a 5 star because of how much I loved reading Kay's writing, and because of how the themes have stuck with me after finishing this. I look forward to reading more of Kay's works; A Brightness Long Ago is the next GGK book I plan to read.

If you're wondering about my thoughts for Under Heaven, here is a link to my Reddit review posted earlier this week

A link to my blog, where more reviews like this can be found

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