The Lions of Al-Rassan is the second book I’ve read by Guy Gavriel Kay, the first being Tigana. I really enjoy his writing style. One thing in particular that I’ve enjoyed about both books is that they each managed to satisfy my epic fantasy cravings within a single, standalone novel. I enjoy a good epic fantasy series, but a standalone does have the advantage of being easier to fit into my reading schedule.
The story involves the cultural and religious conflicts between various factions in a peninsula on a fictional world. We follow some of the more influential characters from those different cultures, most of whom are very likeable, as their goals coincide and conflict with each other. The author writes characters and camaraderie very well. Sometimes I thought there was a little too much melodrama, and sometimes events were a bit too coincidental, but mostly it was a well-written and engaging story.(show spoiler)
It’s probably arguable whether this book really counts as fantasy. It definitely has a solid epic fantasy feel, depending I guess on what you think of when you hear “epic fantasy”, and it’s clearly set on a fictional world with two moons. However, there weren’t really any actual fantastical elements aside from one secondary character with an unexplained special ability. The story and setting are inspired by and have some parallels in real-world history.
It was easy to decide on a 4.5 star rating on the sites where I can give half stars, but it was much, much harder to decide whether to round up or down on Goodreads. In the end, I decided to round down. There was just a little too much bitter in the bittersweet ending, however much I expected it. I also felt frustrated with some of the characters’ choices, and there was the aforementioned melodrama and coincidences. Overall, though, I really enjoyed reading this book and I was completely engrossed by it while I was reading it. I’ll likely try to fit Kay’s work back into my reading schedule sooner rather than later.