The Lions of Al-Rassan was first published in 1995. Quille & Quire’s review, reproduced in full on this site, comments: “Kay doesn’t waste a word or a scene. Darker in tone than his previous work, it nevertheless has that certain spark-that almost Shakespearian ability to work with human archetype-that makes Kay’s literary voice so distinctive.”
In The Lions of Al-Rassan, GGK went further than he ever had before towards history and away from traditional high fantasy. Al-Rassan is a thinly disguised Al-Andalus – the book speaks powerfully and poetically of the conflict and tragedy of a fragmenting world inspired by the history of reconquista Spain. The three peoples that inhabit Al-Rassan and its neighbour Esperana -Asharites, Jaddites and Kindath- are clear parallels of Moors, Christians and Jews. People somewhat familiar with Spanish history might realise that Rodrigo Belmonte is inspired by the legendary figure of El Cid, but they may not realise that other direct historical parallels also exist. For example, there was a Jewish chancellor to a Moorish King in one of the city states, Granada, whose name was Shmuel HaNagid (Samuel the Prince). There was also an Ibn Ammar. There may not have been a day of the moat – but there was a day of the ditch. For a brief look at the historical events that inspired the book, click here.
In his essay ‘Home and Away,’ GGK discusses the merits of examining history in a fantasy setting, and The Lions of Al-Rassan is the book he uses most frequently in the essay to illustrate his ideas. He also here provides the interested reader with a bibliography of key historical texts that he used in his research of the period in question.
As always, one form of the arts can inspire other forms. The cover art for The Lions of Al-Rassan used in different countries has been very interesting – consider the Croatian and French covers for example. Without using an actual song from the book, Martin Springett has used its spirit, combined with that of Sarantium, to infuse meaning into his haunting instrumental piece ‘Painted Feet (on ochre sand).’ Listen to it now in the music section of the site.