The Lions of al-Rassan

The Lions of al-Rassan

by Guy Gavriel Kay


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The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060733490
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/28/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 317,744
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

GUY GAVRIEL KAY is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost fantasy authors. He is the author of eleven novels, and his works have been translated into twenty-five languages. Kay lives in Toronto with his family. Visit him online at

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Always remember that they come from the desert.

Back in the days before Jehane had begun her own practice, in that time when her father could still talk to her, and teach, he had offered those words to her over and again, speaking of the ruling Asharites among whom they dwelt on sufferance, and labored -- as the scattered tribes of the Kindath did everywhere -- to create a small space in the world of safety and a measure of repose.

"But we have the desert in our own history, don't we?" she could remember asking once, the question thrown back as a challenge. She had never been an easy pupil, not for him, not for anyone.

"We passed through," Ishak had replied in the beautifully modulated voice. "We sojourned for a time, on our way. We were never truly a people of the dunes. They are. Even here in Al-Rassan, amid gardens and water and trees, the Star-born are never sure of the permanence of such things. They remain in their hearts what they were when they first accepted the teachings of Ashar among the sands. When you are in doubt as to how to understand one of them, remind yourself of this and your way will likely be made clear."

In those days, despite her fractiousness, Jehane's father's words had been as text and holy guide for her. On another occasion, after she had complained for the third time during a tedious morning preparing powders and infusions, Ishak had mildly cautioned that a doctor's life might often be dull, but was not invariably so, and there would be times when she found herself longing for quiet routine.

She was to sharply call to mind both of these teachings before she finally fell asleep at the end of the day that would long afterwards be known in Fezana -- with curses, and black candles burned in memory -- as The Day of the Moat.

It was a day that would be remembered all her life by Jehane bet Ishak, the physician, for reasons over and above those of her fellow citizens in that proud, notoriously rebellious town: she lost her urine flask in the afternoon, and a part of her heart forever before the moons had set.

The flask, for reasons of family history, was not a trivial matter.

The day had begun at the weekly market by the Cartada Gate. just past sunrise, Jehane was in the booth by the fountain that had been her father's before her, in time to see the last of the farmers coming in from the countryside with their produce-laden mules. In a white linen robe beneath the physician's green and white awning, she settled in, cross-legged on her cushion, for a morning of seeing patients. Velaz hovered, as ever, behind her in the booth, ready to measure and dispense remedies as she requested them, and to ward off any difficulties a young woman might encounter in a place as tumultuous as the market. Trouble was unlikely, however; Jehane was well-known by now.

A morning at the Cartada Gate involved prescribing mostly for farmers from beyond the walls but there were also city servants, artisans, women bargaining for staples at the market and, not infrequently, those among the high-born too frugal to pay for a private visit, or too proud to be treated at home by one of the Kindath. Such patients never came in person; they would send a household woman bearing a urine flask for diagnosis, and sometimes a script spelled out by a scribe outlining symptoms and complaints.

Jehane's own urine flask, which had been her father's, was prominently visible on the counter beneath the awning. It was a family signature, an announcement. A magnificent example of the glassblower's art, the flask was etched with images of the two moons the Kindath worshipped and the Higher Stars of divination.

In some ways it was an object too beautiful for everyday use, given the "unglamorous function it was meant to serve. The flask had been made by an artisan in Lonza six years ago, commissioned by King Almalik of Cartada after Ishak had guided the midwives --- from the far side of the birthing screen -- through the difficult but successful delivery of Almalik's third son.

When the time had come for the delivery of a fourth, son, an even more difficult birth, but also, ultimately, a successful one, Ishak of Fezana, the celebrated Kindath physician, had been given a different, controversial gift by Cartada's king. A more generous offering in its way, but awareness of that did nothing to touch the core of bitterness Jehane felt to this day, four years after. It was not a bitterness that would pass; she knew that with certainty.

She gave a prescription for sleeplessness and another for stomach troubles. Several people stopped to buy her father's remedy for headache. It was a simple compound, though closely guarded, as all physicians' private mixtures were: cloves, myrrh and aloes. Jehane's mother was kept busy preparing that one all week long in the treatment rooms at the front of their home.

The morning passed. Velaz quietly and steadily filled clay pots and vials at the back of the booth as Jehane issued her direction. A flask of urine clear at the bottom but thin and pate at the top told its tale of chest congestion. Jehane prescribed fennel and told the woman to return the next week with another sample.

Ser Rezzoni of Sorenica, a sardonic man, had taught that the essence of the successful physician's practice lay in inducing patients to return. The dead ones, he'd noted, seldom did. Jehane could remember laughing; she had laughed often in those days, studying in far-off Batiara, before the fourth son of Cartada's king had been born.

The Lions of Al-Rassan. Copyright © by Guy Gavriel Kay. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Lions of Al Rassan 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
jegbarber More than 1 year ago
His books, for many years, have drawn me back to read and reread again anad again. It started with the 'Hawk of May', then to the trilogy of the 'Summer Tree' and now, reading the Lions of Al Rassan it invokes the time of medival Spain at or near the Crusades. The 'Last Light of the Sun' follows suit after the 'Lions of Al-Rassan'. It is evocative of the three great religions, the loves and hates between each, the ability to cross cultural barriers for a higher common cause and to seek resolution of great and terrible social evils. It is a book for thought and reflection on how these issues are still at odds today. It captures the epic movers and shakers who establish kingdoms and induce historical sweeping change for the generations that will follw. There are villians, heroes and tragic loss of love. All of which is epic and stoic in the telling. This story is an excellent example of the Kay's style. And many of his other works overlap using the same time frame. It is at the same time nearly historical with a smattering the fantasy and the supernatural. And excellant and gentle read.
sleo More than 1 year ago
I can't even think how to review this book. First of all, I guess, it's a good lesson on why not to give up on a book before you finish it. I was more than halfway through, and getting a little frustrated and somewhat bored with Kay's POV changes and introduction of new and mostly peripheral characters so far into the book. This is the fourth Kay book I've read, and I find myself a little put off by his distant approach to events that are positively horrifying. He introduces one of the main characters with a scene of him as an assassin, cool as you please. Made it a little hard to warm up to him later, for me, at least. A later scene of butchery I almost missed as my eyes were skimming a scene that he was describing in this way. Had to go back and reread it. On the other hand, some of the things he writes about are mundane and seemingly very incidental to the plot. I'm wondering from time to time, "Why am I reading this?" Anyway, I put the book down and watched some TV shows I'd missed and was hesitant about going back to it. Friends, however, had given it such high recommendations that I decided to continue. That's when it started to get interesting. At some point I could not stop reading until I was crying so hard that my dogs got upset and I had to remind myself that it was only a BOOK I was reading, not a rerun of a personal tragedy. Kay's descriptions of the characters and their feelings so closely mirrored my own that it was hard to separate. Finally, at the end, the book left me horribly sad and I find I have to give it five stars, not because I enjoyed it but because it's obviously a case of art mirroring life to the nth degree and a work of genius. REREAD: 7/18/2012 I'm glad I read this another time even though I'm left with a feeling of overwhelming sadness. I picked up much more of the nuance, the power, the total tragedy of war; the ambiguity of honor; and the primacy of love. I grieve so for the loss of a great man.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was kind of skeptical when I first began reading this book, because I had never heard of the author before and, from reading the book jacket, the plot seemed similar to many typical fantasy books that I've read. However, I was dead wrong. This book was excellent, with well-developed characters, florid descriptions and a good plot with interesting ties to actual history. I thouroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to almost anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book convinced me otherwise. I would, had I the time, read it over slowly in order to savor it. Alas, time is precious, and I sacrificed perhaps too much simply to read it once. No matter; the price was more than worth it. I would recommend this book to anyone, to everyone, to those who would not normally touch science fiction (which this is not, exactly) or even historical fiction (which this also is not... exactly). This is the first book of Guy Gavriel Kay's that I have read; It will not be the last.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so great. It was enormously entertaining and kept me rapt through each page. I think Kay knows how to capture his audiences with a skill that surpasses most authors out there today. His world is reminiscent of a world that used to exist and I think it adds to the charm of the story. Buy it, read it, enjoy it, and recommend it to others!!!
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harstan More than 1 year ago
History has condemned Ammar to the role of monstrous butcher as he betrayed an inept monarch by killing him and brought to the Al-Rassan throne a stronger but abusively insane king. Though hated by everyone even the person he put in charge, Ammar will do anything to save his beloved country. As he did once before, he plans to correct his mistake with the same deadly precise solution................. Dr. Jehane is a physician just like her father, who had to choose between his life by bowing to his cruel ruler or his oath. His daughter has doubts that a physician can adhere to their oath to heal while kneeling to the savagery of the monarch. She plans to break her oath by killing the killer of her father................. Rodrigo is a great swordsman recognized by everyone as a hero for his loyalty to the deposed ruler. Since heroes cannot expeditiously be royally killed, he was exiled by the new king. His beloved wife and his children remained behind in Al-Rassan. He wants to come home to see his woman one more time, which means he must bow to the ruler.............. Three individuals from different walks of life impacted by the same pivotal moment are coming together perhaps at another focal point.................... This is a reprint of a classic mid 1990s tale that fictionalizes the fall of Moorish Spain. The three superb main characters struggle with the past and present and have no hope for the future while the support cast brings the era to life. The story line remains powerful and insightful while also entertaining readers with an extraordinary historical fiction thriller that transports audience back to the twelfth or thirteenth century........... Harriet Klausner
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