November Book: LIONS OF AL-RASSAN

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Lani, Nov 1, 2003.

  1. Brys

    Brys Registered User

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    I thought it was a great book with amazing characterisation, and it was the first historical fantasy I've read. There were a couple of things that annoyed me:
    The death of Velaz (when it seemed like it should have been Rodrigo) - it seemed that the expendable one died, not the one who you'd grown really attached to
    The revival of Diego
    The outcome of the final duel

    They were all handled excellently, and were done for a good reason, but I can't help thinking that particularly the revival of Diego was unnecessary. It was a very powerful scene - but it lost that power when he didn't actually die. To me, it feels like Kay is someone who doesn't want his major characters to be harmed, but he realises that it's necessary for them to die sometimes. It definitely works quite well, but sometimes I think he could afford to be a bit harsher.

    Calandra - I haven't read the Sarantine Mosaic, but its supposed to be based on the Byzantine Empire with a pseudo - Emperor Justinian, which places it a few hundred years before The Lions of Al-Rassan. It's the same world because it is effectively our world, with a few changes.
     
  2. AuntiePam

    AuntiePam Cranky old broad

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    Exactly. I relaxed about halfway through the book, because it was evident that Kay was too fond of his major characters and nothing serious was going to happen to them.

    When Rodrigo died, I had no emotion left for him. I had already spent it earlier, the times when he should have died. The duel made no sense to me.
     
  3. Miriamele

    Miriamele Witch of the Woods

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    After having Lions on my shelf for probably two years now, I finally got around to reading it this past week.

    For the most part, I liked the book, for the same reasons people have outlined in this discussion, but I can also say that I liked all of Kay's other books more. In fact, about halfway through, I almost considered stopping this book. But I'm glad I continued, because the ending was worth it.

    My main complaint with the book is that there are so many points of view. Kay has done a remarkable job creating characters in this book (as always), but I felt like none of them were as fully fleshed out as they could have been. Especially in the first half of the book, where the POV must have changed a dozen times over a few chapters...every time I started to love a character, the focus shifted to someone else. Even the main three characters could have used more development. But some secondary characters (like Miranda, Ibero, Queen Ines, King Badir, Jehane's parents) I really liked, and I felt Kay was teasing us by having only 2 or 3 short sections from their POV. I would rather the POV stuck with the main characters, or the POV sections of the secondary characters would be lengthened. Does that make sense? I guess what I am saying is that the book could have been longer to fully realize the rich cast of characters. Or, the secondary POVs could have been cut out.

    The overall effect for me of having this huge cast of characters in a not-overly-long book is that I didn't really care for anyone as much as I might have, simply because there were too many characters and the story was so complex. Until almost the end of the book, the story had little focus for me.

    Another factor that made me care less for the characters was their mercenary status. "All's fair in love and war," but some of the violent actions the main characters in the book took as a means to an end I found lessened my sympathy for them. Namely, the massacre of the Jaddite company bringing the parias gold north, planned by Ammar and Rodriguo. And Jehane--who is a doctor--helped them, and didn't seem to mind much that the result was a couple hundred dead bodies on the ground.

    It was at this point actually that I almost stopped reading. I understand that Kay was not glorifying any of the bloodshed in the book, but still, sometimes it was hard for me to read.

    Another gripe I can't help but mention is the one that others have already mentioned:
    Indeed, Kay did tease the reader A LOT in this book. The final duel was also tricky, because he wrote the whole thing without using names, so you never know which man (Rodriguo or Ammar) or which woman (Miranda or Jehane) he was talking about. I can't say I liked it that way, but it was a powerful scene all the same.

    I did cry during that scene, and I cried when Rodriguo found his son, as well as when Ishak performed the surgery without his sight. And there were a few other scenes that brought a tear to my eye. Kay's writing, above all else, always holds the power to move me.

    Probably the most moving part of the book though, for me, was the final image of the wine glasses on the side of the moon-lit fountain. It held so many layers of meaning.

    A few other scenes I liked:
    -The assassination attempt on Zabira's sons
    -The witty banter between Ammar, Rodriguo and Jehane in the infirmiry
    -The entire carnival section
    -The sections which take place on Rodriguo's ranch with his family

    In all, I liked the book, because there were some very memorable and emotional scenes, and because there is a lot of food for thought in the ruminations of the charcters the last few chapters as they ponder the meaning of war and religion. But, I don't think I would read it again for the reasons above.
     
  4. Evil Agent

    Evil Agent Saturn Comes Back Around

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    Just finished the book. It was pretty good. Probably a bit better than Tigana (as far as the writing goes) but not quite as good as A Song for Arbonne (my favorite Kay so far). The one problem I had with Lions, is that the plot felt rather tangled and all-over-the-place. What were they doing in Ragosa for so long?? And why were the last 50 pages so rushed, skimming over years and years of events in a matter of pages? It didn't make much sense to me, several plot threads were left unresolved, and I feel that Kay was a little lost. But maybe the plot wasn't the point; maybe the point was to give a snapshot of the warring cultures and divided loyalties in the peninsula. Anyway, over all it was a good book.
    Brys, I know this post of yours is a year old, and I'm not sure if you've read any more Kay since then... but I think you've misunderstood. All of Kay's "historical" novels seem to take place in different worlds, though they all resemble our own. They're parallel dimensions or universes, if you will. Tigana, A Song For Arbonne, and The Lions of Al-Rassan all take place on different worlds. The only thing that remains the same is the presence of the two moons, one blue, one silver. For example, depending on which book you're reading, "France" is called Arbonne, or Ferrieres. "Italy" is called the Peninsula of the Palm, or Portezza, or Batiara. "Germany" is called Gorhaut, Waleska, etc. But I think the Sarantine Mosaic takes place in the exact same world as Lions of Al-Rassan, because on the maps Italy is still called Batiara. Does that make any sense? :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2006
  5. Miriamele

    Miriamele Witch of the Woods

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    Are you sure about that, EA? I was always under the impression that all his "historical" books took place in the same world, one which was an alternate to our own. If not, why else would be make every world have the same two moons? And why would the religions (Jaddite, Asharite, Kindath) always be the same? Of course different countries would be called different things anyhow, depending on the place of the story.

    In our world, Germans call themselves Deutch, and in Canada we call them Germans, but it is the same thing and we are indeed in the same world. :)
     
  6. Evil Agent

    Evil Agent Saturn Comes Back Around

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    There are no Kindath, Jaddites, or Asharites in Tigana or A Song for Arbonne. There are very different religions in each of those books.

    I think in A Song for Arbonne there are two major religions, either worshipping the god Corannos, or the Goddess Rhiannon. In Tigana, the god was named something like Adaon, and again had a totally different system of religion. The Kindath/Jaddites/Asharites (based on Jews/Christians/Muslims) worship the moons, the sun, or the stars, and they only first appear in Lions...

    I think that the books written after Lions (the Sarantine Mosaic, and Last Light of the Sun) all take place in the same world as Lions. But the other books take place in a different universe. The two moons are supposed to be the only similarity. There were two moons in The Fionavar Tapestry as well, which is considered to be the original true world. Kay mentions several times how there are many worlds, but they are all reflections of Fionavar.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2006
  7. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    Guy Kay Worldbuilding 101:

    Guy Kay's books do not all take place in the same world, but all of his worlds are in some way reflections of the "One True World," Fionavar. The books that do take place on the same world (or ones close enough together to share names of places, religions, etc.,) are Lions, The Sarantine Mosaic, and Last Light of the Sun. Kay afficionados refer to that world as Jadland. These are the only ones that share the same religions. Tigana, Song for Arbonne, and the forthcoming Ysabel do not take place in Jadland, though they are also refelctions of Fionavar, so there are likely to be references to Fionavar or the other places. Fionavar is mentioned in some way in all of his works, and all of his works have "reflections," of things that happened in the Fionavar Tapestry, things that parallel the story in some way.

    So it's not our world that ties all of Kay's works together, but Fionavar, much like King's Dark Tower ties many (some would argue all) of his works together. Any similarities to our own world is only a reflection that our world, too, runs parallel to Fionavar.

    Hopefully that helps to clear things up a little.
     
  8. Miriamele

    Miriamele Witch of the Woods

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    Ah, I understand now, thank you both of you. :)
     
  9. Evil Agent

    Evil Agent Saturn Comes Back Around

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    No prob. I'll take any chance to sound like a know-it-all. ;)
     
  10. lovely_elm

    lovely_elm A very special tree......

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    Just finished!

    I finished Lions last night. I found getting my head around the names and places at the begining fairly hard and was very glad for the map and name reference at the front of the book.

    I am quite well travelled in Spain and was fascinated by his descriptions of places such as Grananda (Cartada I presumed) and Seville.

    It didn't help that the book was written by so many character's perspectives, but I did become fond of most of the main players, and I liked to see all sides of a story. I liked Rodrego alot and was very sorry when it became clear (finally) that he had been killed my Ammar. I thought Diego could have died too - that all felt a bit too schmultzy for me!

    I love GGK's ability ro write really strong female characters who are neither damsely, wimpy or somply eye candy.

    I think I loved Tigana more but there was just so much more time with everyone to become more involved with their stories. Saying that, I was more in love with both Rodrego and Ammar than I was with Alessan. Plus Catrina annoyed me a bit whereas I loved Jehane.

    In all it was a wonderful story and I expect to be thinging about it alot over the next few days...............
     
  11. Raule

    Raule Registered User

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    I just finished reading this, and it is my first book by GGK. Like Nimea, I was instantly hooked in the beginning, couldn't put it down, but about half way through I found Kay's characterizations were beginning to feel overdone and heavy-handed in places. The romantic entanglements in particular began to feel too forced and too superficially evoked to justify the extent of the emotions being portrayed. I think this goes along with your observation that we are being told too much and forced to accept what we are being told at face value or through some very superficial dialogue without being shown any deeper, more penetrating insights (some will probably disagree with this assessment, though). Particularly aggravating at times were Kay's bait and switch tactics. I felt I was being toyed with as a reader. Even when I knew what likely had happened, I felt a little resentful that the suspense couldn't have been handled in a more subtle way. It's fine to do this a few times during the course of the novel, but Kay kept on doing it.


    Though I haven't read a lot of alternate historical fantasy, I find I'm strongly attracted to these type of stories. I'm fascinated by what authors choose to use from our history and world and where they choose to diverge from it or change it. In that respect, Kay seems to do this very well, and the sublime quality of his writing complements that. I like what he was trying to do with the Cid legend by having Rodrigo and Ammar as two sides of one coin. There were some other interesting parallels, such as the use of twins. Somehow, though, I think Kay went wrong with his use of Jehane in the novel. I do like strong female characters, but I found he somehow failed to develop her emotions in a way that supported his story. She loved both men; had feelings of ambivalence; yet her feelings were pure for Ammar and she seemed to be both distant and all-consuming in her emotions and able to turn them on and off like a light switch (and there were far too many men interested in her). That just bugged me. (I'm not stating this very well, though). By the time she makes her choice, it didn't have the impact it should have had on me.

    Overall, I liked the book, but Kay's characterizations knocked it down a notch in my estimation. I do think it has great potential as a film. There are many scenes that could be quite visually arresting. I have Tigana and The Last Light of the Sun. I think I will read those next to see how they compare.

    On a more trivial note:

    Did anyone else find themselves fascinated by the rising/setting cycles and phases of the two moons? I found myself wanting to plot a lunar chart. I noticed, for example, at the Carnival, the blue moon was out, but the white moon did not rise until nearly dawn. Seven or eight days later, when they were at Fezana, the white moon is described as being out in the sky after the sun has set (implying, I would suppose, that the blue moon set earlier in the day). I know it is trivial, but I wanted to figure out how these cycles worked.
     
  12. Evil Agent

    Evil Agent Saturn Comes Back Around

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    Hi Raule. I read a fair bit of Kay last year (The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, and Lions of al-Rassan).

    I think the heavy-handedness with characterization, and the slightly forced love stories, and occasionally forced melodrama, are Kay's biggest weaknesses. I had heard nothing but good things about him, so I was pretty surprised to find these (they're especially bad in Fionavar, pretty bad in Lions, somewhat present in Tigana). So far, the one that I enjoyed the most, and that felt the most authentic to me, was by far A Song for Arbonne. It surprised me because I somehow assumed it was one of his weaker books (you don't hear about it so much). I'd highly recommend you read that one! I think my preference so far is 1) Arbonne, 2) Tigana, 3) Lions, 4) The Fionavar trilogy.

    As for the blue and silver moons, they appear in all his books, in all the different worlds. These are all alternate universes that are reflections of each other (although I think the same world from Lions is used again in the 2 Sarantium books, and Last Light of the Sun...)
     
  13. Fuxxy Elf

    Fuxxy Elf Hello, hooray!!

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    This is the first Kay novel I have read, but it certainly won't be the last. I agree with people's resevations about a slightly forced romance...in particular Jehane's habit of attracting men like a magnet...plus melodrama often showed by wrongfooting the reader on who has been affected. However, these weaknesses were far outshone by an almost Shakespearean tone which set a very human, emotional story against a far bigger backdrop which is often only hinted at or skimmed over. I enjoyed this aspect though, often fantasy is more about the story than the character, which is why certain series outstay their welcome by losing focus. It was refreshing to read a one volume story which still felt epic to me.

    Whilst the wrongfooting got slightly annoying, plus being told that THIS is an important change in someones life, the end benefitted from it and gained a far more emotional reaction from me, because I wanted Rodrigo to succeed in the duel (personal opinion mind...I just preffered him over Ammar) and in the epilogue Kay leads you to believe this happened, and that Alvar married Jehane as a result of Ammar's death, only to find that neither is true, that was what made me wipe tears away at the end because I felt the truest romance was Alvar's love for Jehane and would have loved that happy ending as opposed to his other happy ending.

    As someone else has said on this board, the one thing you come away with is how brilliant a writer Kay is, particularly in his lack of waste...every word in that book you can tell has been poured over and would have been cut if it was unneeded. Every section either said something about the themes or moved on character...I only wish some other authors would have such a stringent editing policy.

    So all in all, a thumbs up from me.
     
  14. tpetty

    tpetty The Doctor is in.

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    My first Kay book as well. I realize this is an old thread, but I wanted to add to the acclaim. Just finished this last night.

    This has got to be one of the best books I have read in years. No magic at all -- and I thought that would bother me, since it is so prevalent in the fantasy books that dominate these forums, but it's not missed. A beautiful book, and it's pretty rare that I get a little choked up when a major character dies, but in this story, how can you help but root for both sides? I look forward to my next taste of Kay.