The ruling Asharites of Al-Rassan have come from the desert sands, but over centuries, seduced by the sensuous pleasures of their new land, their stern piety has eroded. The Asharite empire has splintered into decadent city-states led by warring petty kings. King Almalik of Cartada is on the ascendancy, aided always by his friend and advisor, the notorious Ammar ibn Khairan -- poet, diplomat, soldier -- until a summer afternoon of savage brutality changes their relationship forever. Meanwhile, in the north, the conquered Jaddites' most celebrated -- and feared -- military leader, Rodrigo Belmonte, driven into exile, leads his mercenary company south. In the dangerous lands of Al-Rassan, these two men from different worlds meet and serve -- for a time -- the same master. Sharing their interwoven fate -- and increasingly torn by her feelings -- is Jehane, the accomplished court physician, whose own skills play an increasing role as Al-Rassan is swept to the brink of holy war, and beyond.
Canadian attorney Kay has eschewed the courtroom thriller for fantasy (A Song for Arbonne, etc.). Here he draws on the crumbling empire of medieval Spain to inspire this tale of brutality and romance. Though the setting is the fictitious Al-Rassan, and there are passing references to the ``Star-born,'' any ancillary connection with science fiction is almost irrelevant to the story. Kay provides insightful glimpses into the goals and motives of his many characters, including King Almalik of Cartada, his advisor Ammar ibn Khairan, a young soldier, Alvar de Pellino, and the compelling female physician Jehane. Mindful of the confusion that alternate universes can create for readers, Kay is careful to periodically summarize the current positions of the various factions in the struggles between the many kingdoms in the empire. Studded with poetry that is evocative of Spain (some selections are reminiscent of El Cid), the story is buttressed with convincing cultural and social details and descriptions of medicine as it was practiced in the 12th century. Genre fans looking for more romance and strong female character development will find this an engrossing tale. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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June 28, 2005
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