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Literature / The Lions of Al-Rassan

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The Lions of Al-Rassan is a 1995 fantasy novel by Guy Gavriel Kay. Its world is based off the Spanish Reconquista.

The story begins with murder. King Almalik of Cartada, the largest of the three Asharite kingdoms in Al-Rassan, arranges for a large number of his enemies slain in one afternoon. The Kindath physician, Jehane bet Ishak, inadvertently keeps one of her patients from the execution, and is forced to flee her home town of Fezana. Following the event, the notorious military strategist and poet Ammar ibn Khairan of Cartada, former advisor of Almalik, is exiled. Meanwhile, in the Jaddite-controlled north, renowned Captain Rodrigo Belmonte, the man used to collect tribute from the southern kingdoms, is ordered south to quell a feud with his rival Gonzalez de Rada, and to do reconnaissance on the Asharite kingdoms in preparation for war.


Jehane meets Ammar in Fezana in the day of the massacre, the day that will changes their lives forever. However, they part ways as Jehane flees the city. Outside the city walls she meets Rodrigo, as he settles old debts with Gonzalez' brother Garcia de Rada in the midst of a particularly ugly battle. Rodrigo's life also take a turn that day, as he is sent to exile by his king, Ramiro of Valledo, following the events.

The three meet in the city of Ragosa and soon become good friends. In the service of the Ragosian king, they fight thieves, hired killers, and religious fanatics. A love triangle begins to develop between Jehane and the two men. However, the shadow of war hangs heavy over them, and they know that soon they may see each other on opposite ends of the battlefield...

There have been rumors of a film adaptation, which have as yet come to nothing.Now has a Character Sheet.


The Lions of Al-Rassan contains examples of:

  • The owl also appears as a symbol of all healers, and by extension - of Jehane.
  • Alien Sky: Other than all the invented peoples, cities and religions, the main clue that you're reading a fantasy novel and not one taking place on Earth is the two moons in the sky.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The assassination attempt on Rodrigo during the Carnival manages to pull this off twice. First, it makes it look like the attempt may have succeeded. Then, when it's revealed that Rodrigo is still alive, the next paragraph makes it look like Alvar died protecting him, playing with the trope of Sex By Death. Then it's revealed that Velaz, not Alvar, is the one who made the Heroic Sacrifice.
    • The book’s ending is constructed as a blatant bait-and-switch, and an especially manipulative one: The characters all know what happened. Only the reader does not, until the final reveal.
  • Berserk Button: Don't bring up Raymundo's death in front of Rodrigo. It will end badly.
  • Betty and Veronica: Jehane is Archie, Alvar the Betty and Ammar the Veronica. Mazur and Rodrigo were teased as a mixture of the two.
    • Jehane is the Betty and Zabirah is the Veronica to both Ammar and Mazour.
    • Teased triangle: Rodrigo as Archie, Miranda as Betty and Jehane as Veronica.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
  • Blithe Spirit: Ibn Musa.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Muwardi.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A duel between Rodrigo and Ammar is suggested as a solution to a debate on Ammar's worth to Ragosa. Both men refuse while staring the other down and the mood becomes suddenly grim, as Ammar explains that if they ever fight, he doubts it would be for entertainment or to determine wages. The book climaxes with Rodrigo and Ammar fighting a duel to the death as champions of opposing armies.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Ishak ben Yonannon, Jehane's father, had his eyes and tongue cut out for saving the life of the king's concubine; that is, in order to properly save her during childbirth, he had to see her naked. His eyes were taken for having seen her naked; his tongue, so he would never describe her beauty to others. Note that this was the king's way of showing mercy - had he given in to the priests' demands, Ishak would have been killed.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Asharites are Muslims, the Jaddites are Christians, and the Kindath are Jews.
    • The name "Asharite" comes from the Ash'arite school of Islamic theology, which (along with the Maturidi and Athari) is one of the three classical schools of Sunni Muslim theology. For most of the Middle Ages, the Ash'arite school was the most widespread and dominant, including in Muslim Spain.
  • Cue the Sun: In the dramatic second battle between Ammar and Rodrigo.
  • Has a Type: Rodrigo has a thing for Deadpan snarkers.
    • Alvar is very specific- he fell in love twice, both were Kindath physicians, with dark hair and light eyes, and have a famous physician father. Could this be a Race Fetish?
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Mazur ben Avren.
    • While not happening "on screen", Ishak ben Yonannon may count. See the Cold-Blooded Torture example above, and take into account that (as we learn later in the book) he was completely aware of what would be done to him, but went on anyway to abide by his oath as a physician.
    • Also Velaz, who dies fighting despite being a Non-Action Guy.
  • Perfect Poison: Played straight in the murder of Almalik the first. Averted with the poisoned arrow that hits Queen Ines.
  • Petite Pride: Miranda is described as the most beautiful woman in the world, and having small breasts.
  • Proud Beauty: Zabirah. Ammar has shades of this too.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves:
    • Offscreen, Ammar murders ibn Musa's steward for telling him where ibn Musa went on the grounds that the servant would have revealed the merchant's whereabouts to his enemies.
    • Later, Ammar himself is exiled on Almalik II's orders for murdering Almalik I as instructed. Subverted in that it was meant to be for show, to shut up the people who would want a regicide put to death; Almalik II fully intended to bring Ammar back in the fullness of time, and was quite annoyed when the man took him seriously and joined a mercenary company instead of going off somewhere quiet to write more poetry.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Jehane never did find out why that quarry laborer had the symptoms of gout.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Ammar and Jehane. Eventually subverted.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Miranda. Jehane is implied to be one.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Jehane and Ser Rezzoni were once lovers, but it's mentioned that he sleeps with all of his female students, and some of the male ones.
    • In verse Ho Yay rumors attribute this trope to the mentorship of Ammar over Almalik the first.
  • The Tease: Played with in regard to Jehane. She enjoys teasing the men in her life - Rodrigo, Mazur and sometimes Ammar, but it's shown as part of their sarcastic banter, and not in order to gain sexual attention.
  • Throw Away City: Sorenica.
  • Triang Relations: Jehane, Ammar and Rodrigo. Type 3.
    • It's really more like Type 10. Type 8 is also implied. Though angles of that are unrequited. Really it's five sides once you factor in Rodrigo's wife Miranda and Alvar's unrequited love for Jehane.