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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:

  • A Father to His Men: Rodrigo, whose company of horsemen all serve him out of loyalty. He would risk his life for any one of them, though he's not above making them the butt of his dad jokes.
  • Amicable Exes: Jehane takes several casual lovers, and appears to be on good terms with all of them.
  • Animal Motif: As the title indicates, the book delves at length into the symbol of the lion as a representative of true royalty.
    • The owl also appears as a symbol of all healers, and by extension - of Jehane.
    • The Carnivale sequence is a veritable parade of animal motifs, with every character wearing a mask that says something about them.
  • 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.
  • Badass Bookworm: Ammar ibn Khairan, one of the two greatest warriors of his age, thinks of himself primarily as a poet. Rodrigo has less traditional schooling, but it's mentioned that he enjoys poetry (or at least enjoys boring his wife with it).
  • 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. 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, where the characters all know what happened. Only the reader does not, until the final reveal.
  • Berserk Button: Don't bring up Raimundo's death in front of Rodrigo. It will end badly — partially because, in his heart, he knows Ramiro did it.
  • Better as Friends: Jehane with both Rodrigo (she's not willing to get between him and Miranda) and Alvar (who despite his Dogged Nice Guy tendencies, ultimately realizes that they wouldn't be well-matched).
  • Betty and Veronica: Jehane is Archie, Alvar the Betty, and Ammar the Veronica. Mazur could also be seen as a second Veronica, and Rodrigo as a second Betty.
    • Jehane is the Betty and Zubira is the Veronica to both Ammar and Mazur.
    • Rodrigo with Miranda as Betty and Ammar as Veronica, though it's ambiguous as to whether his feelings for the latter are at all romantic.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Several main characters survive and find a happy ending in Batiara, but Rodrigo is dead, his son Fernan has become a crueler version of his father, and Al-Rassan no longer exists.
  • The Captain: What many people know Rodrigo Belmonte as.
  • 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, a crime according to the Asharite religion. His eyes were taken for having seen her naked; his tongue, so he would never describe her beauty to others. And this was the king showing mercy - had he given in to the Asharite priests' demands, Ishak would have been simply killed.
    • It is implied that Mazur ben Avren suffers this before his death.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Asharites are Muslims, the Jaddites are Christians, and the Kindath are Jews note .
  • Cue the Sun: In the dramatic second battle between Ammar and Rodrigo — and several other points in the story, given that it represents Jaddism/Christianity.
  • Cultured Warrior: Ammar and Rodrigo. Ibn Musa becomes one.
  • Dad the Veteran: Alvar's father is a medieval version of this trope.
  • The Dandy: Count Gonzalez. Ammar has shades of this too.
  • Decadent Court: All the courts described in the story fit the bill. Subverted in that the decadence of the courts, as opposed to the austerity of their enemies, is discussed in neutral-to-positive terms and its loss lamented.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pretty much every single character, though it's frequently lampshaded regarding Jehane and Ammar. Overall, it's pretty much a World of Snark.
  • Determinator: Most of the main characters have shades of this, but the crown has to go to Ishak ben Yonnanon, who — despite being blind and mute — finds a child dying of a head injury in a field several hundred years before modern medicine, says "screw that," and invents brain surgery.
  • Dirty Coward: In a world of noble, conflicted knights and rulers, Garcia de Rada stands out as a repugnant killer and rapist who cowers from taking responsibility for his actions.
  • Distant Finale: The epilogue is set years later in Batiara, where the characters receive news that Rodrigo's war of reconquest has been completed by his now-adult son.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Alvar to Jehane. Subverted when he realizes that while he'll always love her, she's perfect for Ammar and wouldn't be happy with anyone else. By the end, he's Happily Married to another woman.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The world is an analogue to Medieval Spain.
  • Fiery Redhead: You don't mess with Miranda Belmonte.
    • Also, Queen Inez, who can be seriously sassy, and is clearly an adult version of the Spirited Young Woman trope.
  • Foregone Conclusion: In typical Kay fashion, the story sticks closely to the general outline of real history. While we don't know what will happen to the characters, we do know that the holy war will succeed in wiping Al-Rassan off the map.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The Book. By the final duel, it's clear that it will be a tragedy no matter who wins. The scene itself is even written in such a way that we don't know which man is doing what.
  • Happily Married: Rodrigo and Miranda, though it takes the form of Slap-Slap-Kiss with occasional Aww Look They Really Do Love Each Other.
    • Ramiro and Ines, though it takes some time for them to realize how much they have in common.
    • Eliane and Ishak, to the point where she can understand him perfectly even when he speaks without a tongue.
    • Two couples at the end: Jehane with Ammar, and Alvar with Marisa, daughter of Jehane's teacher.
  • Has a Type: Rodrigo has a thing for deadpan snarkers.
    • Alvar is very specific—he fell in love twice, both times with Kindath physicians, with dark hair and light eyes, and a famous physician father.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Mazur ben Avren gives his life in exchange for summoning the Muwardis to break the siege of Ragosa.
    • Ishak ben Yonannon counts, though he didn't die. See the Cold-Blooded Torture example above, and take into account that 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.
  • Historical Fantasy: Heavily based on the conflicts between Christianity and Islam that occurred in medieval Spain.
  • Holier Than Thou: Ines of Valledo, though she later proves to be Not So Above It All.
  • Hospital Hottie: Jehane. Alvar later becomes one of the silver fox variety.
  • The Lancer: Lain Nunez to Rodrigo, commonly staking out contrary positions in what seems to be a well-established dance.
  • Love Dodecahedron: As is common in the works of Guy Gavriel Kay. The size of Jehane's potential harem is rivaled only by that of Crispin's from The Sarantine Mosaic.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Miranda Belmonte and Jehane bet Ishak. Despite being a forceful Action Girl and Mama Bear, Miranda is a more traditional woman, bearing children and running her husband's home. Jehane, meanwhile, is unmarried, works in a profession, and is of a race many in the setting view suspiciously. But when they watch the final battle together, it becomes clear that there's no more difference between them than their dueling lovers.
  • Mama Bear: In her first appearance, Miranda executes a man in cold blood for threatening her and her children.
  • Married to the Job: Jehane is twenty-eight, an old maid by medieval standards, and has given little thought to marriage, preferring to excel as a doctor. Subverted when she marries Ammar.
  • Meaningful Name: Almalik means "the king" in Arabic. "King Almalik" doubles as a Department of Redundancy Department.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Rodrigo and Ammar. Both men disagree with the actions of their kings, but realize that if there is to be a true war, they can't stand against their homelands.
    • They also share the motivation of wanting to blunt extremism in their own armies. Rodrigo thinks he can take cities with minimal bloodshed, while Ammar wants to keep the Muwardis on a short leash.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Rodrigo Belmonte is based on El Cid.
  • Papa Wolf: Rodrigo will drop everything if his sons are in danger.
  • Perfect Poison: Played straight in the murders of Almalik the First and possibly Raimundo. Averted with the poisoned arrow that hits Queen Ines.
  • Petite Pride: Miranda is described as the most beautiful woman in Esperana, and having small breasts.
  • Proud Beauty: Zabirah. Ammar has shades of this too.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Muwardi.
  • 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.
  • The Strategist: Mazur for Ragosa, and Ammar for Cartada. The one time they work on a battle strategy together, it's a doozy, engineering a fight between a Jaddite patrol and a bandit clan so Ragosa can seize a tribute payment.
  • 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 universe Ho Yay rumors attribute this trope to Almalik I's mentorship of Ammar.
  • 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. Tellingly, she refrains from flirting with Alvar, who she knows is in love with her and would be more deeply hurt by getting strung along.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: We get a multitude of perspectives from nearly every major player in the story.
  • Warrior Poet: Ammar, who is a poet first and a diplomat and warrior second.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Almalik I. His son eventually gets tired of trying to earn his respect and has him killed.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: The Day of the Moat, the Kindath pogroms, and really the entire war.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Ammar and Jehane. They do.
  • Vestigial Empire: Al-Rassan, which has fallen far from its height.