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This is one of my favourite books. I have read it numerous times and will never be tired of reading it. Guy Gavriel Kay is a very lyrical author and his words just flow into you, beautiful and poetic.
The Lions of Al-Rassan tells the story of Rodrigo Belmonte, a Jaddite Captain and Ammar Ibn Khairan, a poet and assassin from the neighbouring land of Al-Rassan. Both are sworn enemies but through circumstances beyond their control find themselves outcasts in the city of Ragosa. They become friends, aided by a mutual friend, the beautiful Jehane, who is a Kindath doctor. Jahane is drawn to both men and is pleased as she watches the growning friendship between the men. As you read the book you come to care for both of them too so when circumstances change and a holy war errupts between the two nations you, like Jehane, are torn between the two men as they are called back to their native countries in the full knowledge that their friendship cannot last.
Each of the characters are beautifully drawn in a world so intricate in detail it is breathtaking. The blurb on the back describes it as 'an exhilarating epic adventure of fierce passions, divided loyalties and tribal war', but it is so much more than this. By the time the book ends all your emotions will be well and truely wrung. It's one of those books where you want to read on to find out what happens next, but can't bear to do it because you know that all too soon it will end. And I'm not ashamed to admit that it makes me cry every time - although I'm not going to tell you if its happy crying or sad crying.
Although this is a story set in a purely fantasy world, it is grounded in reality set in Moorish Spain where the Jaddites are Christians, the Kindath represent the Jews and the Asharites of Al-Rassan the Muslims. It is clear to see the parrallels as you read the book, but the story looses nothing if you do not know these things. It is a very clever piece of story telling. I understand it has been optioned for a film, due for release in 2011. I just hope the film does justice to the book. The book is nearly 600 pages long and every word of it matters.