Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Lions of al-RassanThe Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I needed a couple of days to let this sink in before writing a review. That's how powerful the book was, and its incredible ending.

This is one of those books that it's very difficult to write a spoiler-free review for. I could mark it as such and go for it, but then people that haven't read the book will skip the review.

The Lions of Al-Rassan is a book I will push on friends. When asked for recommendations, it will float to the top of my list every time. I won't say it's my all-time favorite, but it's on the short list.

So, without spoilers, let's see what we can do.

This book is a great example of what epic fantasy should be. Key on the "epic". There really aren't that many traditional fantasy elements; no elves, dwarves, magic, dragons, or forgetful wizards. But it has the passion and scope of medieval society, and the brutality of its warfare. The clash of three religions that really should be compatible but for some reason cause hundreds of years of slaughter between the factions.

This could be a historical fiction, if not for the names being changed. It's an imaginary world, with a huge flavoring of our world's history, that of medieval Spain.

And while it has all of that, nothing will prepare the reader for the emotional pull this does on the heartstrings. Kay does not only make you like his characters, he makes you freakin' grieve for them. For their losses, for their ordeals, and sometimes for their deaths. When they're at risk, you feel your heartbeat skip and just as much you feel the relief if/when they survive the challenges. Sometimes, you even feel relief that Character A survived while Character B did not, and then you feel guilty for feeling that relief, because you loved Character B as well.

So, this is not a sword & sorcery Dungeons and Dragons campaign re-hash. It is not strictly a historical "real" fiction, though it is closer to that than the former. In fact, I hate to stick a genre label to this book at all, because it truly transcends labeling.

It's a damn good book, period.

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