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Friday, August 4, 2017

Court of Lions by Jane Johnson

Title: Court of Lions
Author: Jane Johnson
Publisher: 6 July 2017 by Head of Zeus
Pages: 500 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, cultural Spain
My Rating: 3.5 crowns

"Kate Fordham, escaping terrible trauma, has fled to the beautiful sunlit city of Granada, the ancient capital of the Moors in Spain, where she is scraping by with an unfulfilling job in a busy bar. One day in the glorious gardens of the Alhambra, once home to Sultan Abu Abdullah Mohammed, also known as Boabdil, Kate finds a scrap of paper hidden in one of the ancient walls. Upon it, in strange symbols, has been inscribed a message from another age. It has lain undiscovered since before the Fall of Granada in 1492, when the city was surrendered to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate's life forever.

An epic saga of romance and redemption, Court of Lions brings one of the great turning-points in history to life, telling the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada, as they both move towards their cataclysmic destinies."

My Thoughts

I was drawn to this book as I do enjoy a good dual narrative. However, it would appear that the only thing these two stories had in common was geography. We live in a time of upheaval and this story sought to make a (tenuous) link between the fears and prejudices that have always simmered in societies, both present and past - even making reference to the Charlie Hebdo atrocity.

There is no doubt whatsoever the amount of research the author has put into this work. I did not really know that much about the the Granada War of the 1400’s, the culture or the people who existed at that time. Namely, the rise and fall of Abu Abdullah Mohammed, the last Islamic ruler of this empire. Jane Johnson certainly brought to life everything from the architecture and gardens, to the food and culture - from the highest to the lowest members of society. The focus is on the power struggles between Queen Isabella of Spain and her plan to remove the Muslim and Jewish people in her efforts to gain control of Granada. Full of treachery and violence, the vivid descriptions place you right at the heart of the struggle.

The modern day story was not as appealing.  The author even made mention that:

“I wanted to tell his personal story, as well as recount the great sweep of events leading up to the fall. The book was shaping up to be a straightforward historical epic...”

... and in some respects it should have remained so, as Kate’s story was a rather disconnected and weak link. If it was to have worked, there needed to be far more substantial links between the two storylines. Shared subtle and hard to pinpoint themes, were not enough, as the mystery surrounding the hidden paper Kate found, eventuated into nothing of  any real importance.

Overall, it is a well written and interesting read, the product of extensive research. The story of 15th century Granada was noteworthy, if at times, a little drawn out. If you are a reader looking for something unique with an inside view of both historical and modern religious eccentricities, then this would be the book for you.

“Sometimes surrender is more courageous than resistance. But it’s hard for people to see that.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

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