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  1. #1
    Guarded by the Moon Moderator Lani's Avatar
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    November Book: LIONS OF AL-RASSAN

    Well, it must be November at least in some time zones now, so we can start.

    So what did you guys think about the Lions of Al-Rassan?

  2. #2
    Special Member mistri's Avatar
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    I'm only half-way through it, so I probably won't read this thread again until I've finished, but it's great so far.

    I love the way that so many potentially isolated things happen and half the fun is watching how they'll come together into one fairly complicated plot.

    This book means that (after Tigana) GGK will probably get into my top five authors list. Sometimes he can be a bit wordy, but generally I love his writing style and I love his gray (as opposed to obvious black and white moral) characterisation.

    It's nice to see a fairly proficient doctor in a fantasy book, instead of the more traditional healer.

    The Day of the Moat (or whatever it was called) was the first thing to make me think this could be a really great book. It's the sort of thing that stops you in your tracks and think 'I can't believe they just did that'.

    I know I'm coming across as a bit fangirlish, but that's just because I'm really enjoying it. There's still room for my verdict to change by the end of the book, but I hope not.

  3. #3
    Registered User Iskaral Pust's Avatar
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    I read this book about a year ago a have to say I really enjoyed it. I've read a couple of GGK's other books and wasn't too fussed, but this one was of, IMO, much better standard. Less of the soppy scenes. As mentioned he can draw things out a bit and quite often I found myself getting annoyed at when he kept the reader stringed along about some spoiler scenes. Those are my only real gripes with the book. Immar has been catapulted into my top five fav character list. The Moorish Spain setting was enjoyable and quite fresh and I found it very hard to "take side" with either country involved. Will now be tempted to read more by him. Nuff said.

  4. #4
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I enjoyed this book a lot. This book had the highest concentration of moving scenes that I have ever run into in a book. They weren't overdone, but just enough. I did have some issues with the book, but they are dwarfed by the things I found to be good.

    I think my favorite thing about GGK is how he presents everyone's motives in such a way that you can't help but pull for all of them. I found it to be very similar in Tigana with his protrayal of Brandin. The portrayal of almost all of the leading characters was very sympathetic, and one could see the noble reasons that each had to go to war.

    I sometimes wondered while reading this if some of the world leaders of the present and throughout time have thought about the issues that Kay raises in his books.

    There's something about Kay's writing that is very concise yet powerful. I have read a book or two since finishing LoAR, and I can't help but notice how much space other authors waste in comparison to Kay. Almost everything in this book says SOMETHING. There are no scenes that come to my mind that don't reveal something important about some character or set up something for later, usually both at the same time.

    I couldn't help but think as I read this book that an extremely powerful stage adaptation could be made of this book. So much of it reminds me of Shakespeare in its density and tragedy. Much of the imagery speaks on many different levels, and Kay isn't in ones face trying to say exactly what he means. The imagery is there and it can speak to each person differently depending on his experience.

    Some of my favorite scenes from the book:
    1. Rodrigo and Ammar in the garden room in Ragosa/the team duel/the meeting with Ramiro/the final duel.

    One can sense from the first meeting of these two men that there is something vary powerful that will drive their dealings and they they can go either way. These two men are almost one and the same from two different cultures. When fate's coin is cast, it can land on either side or the rim. Throughout the book that coin seems to be cast at each of those very charged meetings.

    2. Ishak speaking/learning of Ishak's maiming/Ishak saving Diego.

    As little as Ishak appears in the book, I found him very tragic and powerful. To go into the birthing chamber with Zabira, knowing what would likely come of it is an extremely brave act. To then perform a surgery while blind and mute to save the son of another enemy is another exremely selfless act. Again, these acts were performed for an Asharite and a Jaddite. There is no reason that Ishak must do these things, but he does anyway to save lives.

    3. The joint scenes where the Mujardi leader decides to go to war and the Jaddite leader decides to go to war.

    While very transparant in device, I also found this pairing powerful. As an onlooker, one can see that neither of these men is evil. They are driven by their honest beliefs. Kay's setting of these scenes again drives home the fact that these men are the same. Neither is any more or less than the other.

    4. A knife left on a fountain/wine left on a fountain.

    The frame for the book. There are many layers to these items being left by the fountain, having to do with war and friendship, the various religions, the various personal relationships between the leavers of the wine.


    My one little gripe: Kay takes too much liberty sometimes witholding information from the reader for dramatic effect. I think I can forgive it, though, for how well the effects usually work out.

    I am interested in hearing what others think of this book and the issues it raises. Let's discuss this month instead of simply giving book reports. Erf.

  5. #5
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    I read this a while ago, and I loved it. It is one of my top fantasy books. I loved the fairy dust he sprinkles all over the place to make the story into a fantasy. I love the earthyness of the story and the charactes undreneath their fairy dust. It hooked me from the very first page and never let go.

    I would have to reread to be more specific. Sorry Erf. I may still do so if I can finish a couple other required reads for November.

  6. #6
    Leisure time optimizer Moderator Nimea's Avatar
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    Okay, after reading Tigana some month ago I was rather disappointed. And only because of this book club I got to read another of GGK's books. I always thought that I need to read something else by him to see if Tigana was just not for me or if GGK is not for me at all.

    Now, what is the result?

    I liked Lions much better then Tigana. But still, GGK is not really one of my favorites. I don't feel any urge to read anything by him again.

    While GGK knows how to make some things really cool and his style of writing gets me into the book right from the start, exactly these things get on my nerves about half through.
    I really think it is just my personal taste, because there is a quality to this book. Difficult to explain.

    While I like special characters with lots of charisma and minds so quick and impressive to others, I get a bit bored of being told that again and again. I want to see it and GGK seems not to be able to do that for me. Not in Tigana, not here.

    The love story was cool and really hit a nerve. Full of shame I do have to believe that had I not always be more of a tomboy, I now would be reading romance instead of fantasy. Nah, just kidding.
    But on the other hand, the overall story of the novel did not really satisfy me. It took a long way with a lot of turning right and left instead of going somewhere and then the end was somehow like "puff, tata, that's it". Mmmph . . .

    Did anyone see the parallels between Tigana and Lions?
    I think there were some.
    Just thinking about the young boy from the farm that has a night of incredible sex with a woman he does not know and she plays no real role later on. (Neither does the sex itself play any important role.)

  7. #7
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Nimea
    But on the other hand, the overall story of the novel did not really satisfy me. It took a long way with a lot of turning right and left instead of going somewhere and then the end was somehow like "puff, tata, that's it". Mmmph . . .
    I thought exactly the opposite. What elements did you find particularly meandering? I felt that from the setup at the beginning, every scene moved the story inexorably closer to the end, an ending that somehow one knows in advance will be tragic in some way.

    Kay certainly seemed to me to have far less extra crap present in his telling than many other authors would today given the same premise.


    Originally posted by Nimea:
    Did anyone see the parallels between Tigana and Lions?
    I think there were some.
    Just thinking about the young boy from the farm that has a night of incredible sex with a woman he does not know and she plays no real role later on.
    (Neither does the sex itself play any important role.)
    I think that Kay deals with many similar issues here as in Tigana. He deals with the issue of perception of evil vs. actual evil very heavily here, maybe even moreso than he did in Tigana. He also deals with the act of remembering here, though that was probably the biggest theme of Tigana.

    As far as the sex goes, I'm not sure I'm equipped to deal with all of the implications he's trying to present there. I know in Kay's mind the sex scene in Tigana was not simply frivolous. He mentions it in the Afterword to the tenth anniversary edition and explains that in many subjugated cultures such scenes are played out here on earth. I'd have to check, but I believe he referred specifically to some areas of Eastern Europe at the time he wrote that particular afterword. So in Tigana, he was certainly trying to say something with the sex act.

    I'm still working on the scene in Lions, though. Given his writing style, I believe that he meant something more than just a frivolous sex scene, but it is a little slow coming to me.

  8. #8
    Leisure time optimizer Moderator Nimea's Avatar
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    Just like you wanted it, we got a discussion.

    About your question:
    I knew from the beginning that Al-Rassan would come to an end. A lot of times in the book, it is said. And hinted at the great tragedy. But the problem was: it never really caught me.
    Instead of giving me more details/hints/whatever of what the tragedy would mean, he just told me time and again that it would happen. Only seldomly he made me feel for it, like the whole circumstances of the Kindath.
    Mmh, I think, this is still not a good answer . . . it is difficult to explain. I saw the end coming – no way to ignore that – and I saw the significance of all the scenes, but the way those things played together did not really give me anything. The way was long and ‘winded’ and led to an ending that was more like a ‘puff’ instead of a mind-shattering explosion.
    Mind you, it was not bad. I was moved but the whole story did not give me enough to call it great. For me, GGK’s way of telling a story is simply not the right thing.

    And in that way he told the story, with the people that would play an important role, constantly telling me that their lives would be tragically interweaved with each other, but for me he only produced small moments of suspension instead of a constant red line making me hold my breath.
    I can’t point at things, if you wanted that. Because this is the overall impression I got – after finishing the book. Hope it is enough.

    Similar issues:
    Yeah, you could be right. But I believe these themes to be more clear, more tragic in Tigana – believe it or not.
    And in Lions – that’s how I saw it – the questions of who is evil, what is really evil etc. were not really as important because right from the beginning it all was ‘real’. *muahahahar* With this I mean that he did show each folly of all different people and believes right from the start. The question of right or wrong was much more muddied, I think.

    And what I meant with the similarities is more in characters, constellation of the characters and such.
    About the sex scene in Tigana: I don’t have that afterword. I really would be interested in what he says about it because the meaning still eludes me . . .
    In Tigana at least he kind of makes a point about the woman and her feelings. About a certain mood? But in Lions I can’t even find that.
    It is often discussed whether or not there should be sex scenes in fantasy novels, and if there are some what for. It is often a question of taste and I personally have no problem with sex scenes whatsoever. I even can find a reason for them, however shallow they are (like in GRRMs aSoIaF ), but GGK just leaves me hanging in the air at that point. There is no driving home the characterization, there is no plot advancement, it plays no role whatsoever in the following chapters . . . so if he means something with it, it really is frustrating me that I am not able to see it – or to simply accept it.
    I really would like to hear some more on that!


  9. #9
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I'm not sure the kind of things you usually like Nim, so I'm not picking on a personal level here because i have no idea really, but:

    Is there a chance that you're not satisfied with the ending because there are no bells, whistles, and flashy lights? There is nothing earth-shattering about the ending. There is little mystery how things will turn out.

    Most civilizations don't fall in a day or one battle or one year. They're a gradual descent. The fall of Al-Rassan began with the killing of the kaliphs and went right through to the end of the book.

    I agree that by the end it's a puff, not an explosion, but things don't end in explosions. They usually peter out and give a few last pitiful breaths. That everything ends big is a fallacy that the movie and popular literature industries would like people to accept, but it's simply not true.


    The great tragedy of this story is three-fold:

    First, it doesn't have to turn out this way. If there were more people like Husari and Alvar in the world, these people could live together.

    Second, of the three groups involved in the struggle, Al-Rassan is the most cultured, beautiful, most tolerant of the three. Sure, Jaddites and Kindath are taxed, but that is a price that is paid to keep the religious men happy so as to keep the peace.

    Third, all of the players involved are doing what their belief systems have programmed into them is right. Everyone is acting as they truly believe their gods would want them to act.


    Nimea:
    Instead of giving me more details/hints/whatever of what the tragedy would mean, he just told me time and again that it would happen.
    From what I've read of GGK, it's not his way to hold the readers hand and walk them through all the implications. I think that's where so much of the depth comes from in this work. The implications of the fall of Al-Rassan are there for the reader to figure out. I know a great many of the current authors out there now hold one's hand throughout and connect all the dots they want connected, but this leaves much of the possibility in their stories undeveloped and unlikely to be developed. Not many people go outside of their experience if they've already been given an answer.

    It's like the difference between a Bach Cello Suite and a Marcello Sonata. The Bach will show you new things every time you approach it throughout life, while the Marcello is much easier to deal with at first, but in the long run much more shallow.

    What does the fall of Al-Rassan mean, it being one of the greatest centers of art and learning in the world, falling to either desert barbarians or warriors from the north?



    As far as the sex goes, i'll look into it. That does elude me a little still. I'll also try to dig up that afterword.

  10. #10
    Leisure time optimizer Moderator Nimea's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Erfael
    I'm not sure the kind of things you usually like Nim, so I'm not picking on a personal level here because i have no idea really, but:

    Is there a chance that you're not satisfied with the ending because there are no bells, whistles, and flashy lights? There is nothing earth-shattering about the ending. There is little mystery how things will turn out.
    Ah, I saw that coming.
    (I really do wonder if my taste is unpredictable or not . . .)

    But about your question: sounds like it, doesn’t it? It probably is in this case – generally I would say no.
    And why? Because on one hand GGK tells (note: telling in this case is meant in a negative way) me about all the glory, the impressive men, the wonderful Al-Rassan – and on the other hand he wants me thinking? As I said, it’s his style that does not work for me in the end.
    He tells me about the meeting and the tragedy of the two men and it leads to that one duell between them . . . does that not look like an explosion. But it is in the end not – that’s how I see it.


    Originally posted by Erfael

    I agree that by the end it's a puff, not an explosion, but things don't end in explosions. They usually peter out and give a few last pitiful breaths. That everything ends big is a fallacy that the movie and popular literature industries would like people to accept, but it's simply not true.
    Now, that is partly true. But on that another kind of discussion can be started. Like what you can except rightfully from the movies or from literature and why you read/watch the stuff, what it sould offer you. Some people would cry ‚escapism’ at this moment.
    I am open to ‚puffs’ and ‚last breath’, but I think how GGK did it here (or maybe generally tries) does not work for me.
    Well, I did not say that the book is ****. I even said that I think it was better than Tigana. But all the critique I point out is why it doesn’t work for my taste to be better. I can’t appreciate it anymore than that.


    Originally posted by Erfael

    As far as the sex goes, i'll look into it. That does elude me a little still. I'll also try to dig up that afterword.
    That would be nice.

  11. #11
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Ooh, Nimea said, "****." I'm telling the mods on you.

    I'll be back with more later. After a long hard day, I just felt like being childish for a moment.

  12. #12
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    Originally posted by Erfael
    [[B] From what I've read of GGK, it's not his way to hold the readers hand and walk them through all the implications. I think that's where so much of the depth comes from in this work. The implications of the fall of Al-Rassan are there for the reader to figure out. [B]
    This is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading GGK novels. He expects that his readers will think about what he has written.

    For me this story followed a similar vein to his other novels in which he is describing "a changing of the guard" or the "end of an era" in which the new era has the impression of being less cultured or receptive than the previous era.

    The other aspect that GGK does very well is giving his characters greater depth including contradictions than the one dimensional characters in other novels. One example is Alvar who desired to be a soldier and ended up becoming a doctor and also had a religous conversion in the process.

  13. #13
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Thought I would add this here, too, to keep the discussion of LoAR here, in addition to wherever else it landed:

    Originally posted by Mithfanion in another thread:

    Just wanted to mention that I've finished Lions of Al-Rassan, which was magnificent. The ending, heavily foreshadowed throughout the tale, was heartbreaking. I don't use that word lightly, because I'm rarely truly moved.

    Characterization of the main trio was excellent, but, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, all of the supporting characters were distinctive and well-drawn. The story itself was very interesting, I loved the atmosphere he created, and the story had genuine depth.

    Easily the most remarkable book I've read all year. I'm very saddened, but that doesn't eclipse the admiration. There's no Fantasy in this book other than the world itself and yet I rate it 9 out of 10, which is on a par with the best works of Hobb, Martin and Tolkien. Only drawback was that the war which the book had been leading up to which was handled so briefly. The story really needed another 50 pages for that final part to get the treatment it deserved.

  14. #14
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I think another 50 pages detailing the war itself could have only hurt the book. The story is a personal one, really. It is the story of people, specifically the trio you mentioned and how they as a unit carry through the duration of their union. Once Rodrigo falls, there is no more union between those three people, and our journey with them is complete.

    One of the major themes of Kay's work is that the story was in progress before we joined it and it continues after we leave it; we merely take a look at what happens for a short time in the characters lives.

    Another thing I have found about Kay is that no matter how grand the overall situation is, the story is still about people. The viewpoint never pulls back to show an experience that is larger than that of an individual or very small group. The story may be about how a very large event(or more usually a series of very small ones that all ripple into something major) has impact on these people, but on the same hand not really focus on the effects it has on a large scale.

  15. #15
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    3. The joint scenes where the Mujardi leader decides to go to war and the Jaddite leader decides to go to war.

    While very transparant in device, I also found this pairing powerful. As an onlooker, one can see that neither of these men is evil. They are driven by their honest beliefs. Kay's setting of these scenes again drives home the fact that these men are the same. Neither is any more or less than the other.
    As there is more and more strife between America("Christians") and various Muslim groups in the world, I keep thinking back to these scenes. I think too many people simply label the other side as wrong if they don't share the same views.

    One thing that Kay's writing brings to light for me is that there are very few actual "evil" people. I can only think of one or two characters in all of his books that I would label as truly evil. Yet, now we're dealing with an "Axis of Evil," a villification of another viewpoint to acheive personal political ends.

    I find that I'm talking to many different people these days who just say that the other side is "wrong" in their beliefs and actions. I find that in light of scenes like the above and the character of Brandin of Ygrath I can't make that same call. I can only label them different in their beliefs.

    And the more I think about how people insist on labeling the other side as wrong the same problems we have now will persist into the future. I think the world will continue on the wrong path until some very enlightening world leaders come along on all sides to help everyone step back and realize that new ways need to be found to deal with our neighbors.

    Joseph Campbell says that the artists, musicians, and authors of our time need to be the new mythmakers, the leaders who show the rest of the world how to get along in today's society. I think Kay is stepping into that role with many of his books and pointing out things like this, even in the context of Moorish Spain.

    With the explosion of travel and communication over the last 100 years, the world has grown far smaller far more quickly than it ever has before, but many of the social constructs in place are the same that have been for many hundreds of years. The us(good) vs. them(evil) mentality of religions that originated at a time when they were necessary for the survival of a society are still in place. As such, we still have friction between these idealogies. I think the next big step for people in our world is to be able to step back and realize that everyone is acting in a way that they think is right and cease the vilification of our neighbors and find new solutions and social innovations to dissipate the friction created by the old ways of looking at the world being forced into a much different world than they originated in.


    And that's just some of what Kay has me thinking about months after reading this book....

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