The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay is a difficult novel to sum up in a sentence. Set against a world clearly inspired by the history of the Crusades, Kay crafts a tale that is both wide in scope but also painfully personal at times.
Set amidst warring nations and a vast landscape, this novel in my opinion is the story of two men. It is the tale of Bromeo and Dudliet. I will write no more than that, as to not rob a new reader of the experience.
The inevitability of violence and the cycle of life and death are themes that emerge throughout the novel. Before long, the reader begins to despair along with the characters at the hopelessness of it all. Slaughter, mutilation and other vicious and bloody acts all stain the pages of the book. Where another novelist might give a side to cheer for, Kay does not allow this release. All factions are shown to be what they are, made up of good and evil, at times it is impossible to separate the two.
The characters are complex and interesting, and pulled at me easily through the pages. When they were in danger, I felt fear for their wellbeing. Though some were larger than life, there was a palpable vulnerability that was apparent in even the mightiest of them.
As like the characters, the prose was complex and layered. I learned early on not to considered anything written as irrelevant or of little consequence. Kay puts a great deal of trust in the reader, not only to keep up with the names of places and characters, but also to remember small details for later.
On the whole, The Lions of Al-Rassan is a novel that feels much tighter than it has any right to be given it’s length and scope. Every character introduced has a purpose and does not feel wasted. The plot moves along at a pace that seems breakneck at times, dragging the reader along to it’s climax.
I will write little of the ending of this novel as it is best experienced fresh and I am loathe to give anything away. I cannot remember the last time a novel left me feeling so gutted but also so satisfied. Perhaps not since closing the pages of the Death Hallows by J.K. Rowling have I felt such a range of emotions.
Overall, I would strongly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of epic, wide reaching fantasy. The Lions of Al-Rassan is a phenomenal novel, well worth your time and money.