I'll post here all the book related content that I usually share on my blog, be it comments, reviews, quotes or whatever else.
After being widely recommended, finally a friend lent me her copy of The Lions of Al-Rassan translated to Portuguese. I am quite thankful. Though it didn't become an instant favourite, as was the case with some of my friends, it still was a very interesting and rewarding book to read. This is often considered a historical fantasy work, for its indirect depiction of the wars of reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moor occupiers by the Christians of the north. Al-Rassan represents the Moorish Iberian territory, Asharites are Muslims, Jaddites are Christians, Kindath are Jews and there is even a character based on El Cid.
Because I don't have enough time to write a very detailed and thoughtful review, I'll try to talk about some moments and themes that not only make reading it mindfully worthwhile, but also convinced me to try another of Guy Gavriel Kay's works.
I must start with the first event that showed how rewarding reading this book would be, a conversation between Jehane and Velaz where one easily understands that the author won't just fantasize an alternative history, but will mostly use it to make the reader think. Jehane is in a situation in which she feels the opposing forces of loyalty to her people, her professional obligations and her individual moral and ethics. As Velaz tries to convince her not to risk herself, their conversation brings forward the consequences of being neutral or passive before injustice.
In order to share them with those who read the book, but avoiding spoilers, I'll just enumerate the other key moments where Guy Gavriel Kay's prose is specially well accomplished: the massacre in Orvilla - where the author explores the contrast between the glory and the tragedy inherent to war; the Carnival in Ragosa - probably the epitome of the book's prose; and the fire in Fezana - because of each characters decision, of the transformations forced upon them by the event and the use of the fire as a weapon both of purification and terror.
Last, I must highlight the epilogue, not only because it closes the plot beautifully, but specially for the way the author made the storytelling accelerate with the approximation of the climax and then, as if experiencing an anxiety crisis, makes the author loose some of the crucial moments, being only able to look at and analyse them in retrospective. A mark of a great writer.
As for the themes explored in The Lions of Al-Rassan, they include as expected, religion and the consequences of war, but there is also a well accomplished analysis of a person's story taking into account and confronting her cultural background, her mutating context, her self-image and her idea of valour and personal fulfilment.
On religion, the story of Al-Rassan illustrates quite well how it can unite groups and communities but on the other hand do it while isolating or hurting others. Its use as an excuse for war, as a motivation to get people to follow their leaders' greed and lust for glory. There is still time for the characters to be forced to question their beliefs and morality by all the events happening around them.
On war, its obviously all over the place, as expected of an interpretation of the reconquest, superficially as a motor for geopolitical changes, but more deeply explored from the point of view of its impact on people, not as a group but as individuals, as lives, as stories, plans, dreams, feelings.