BOOK REVIEW: Court of Lions by Jane Johnson

By Jane Johnson
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication Date: 6th July 2017
Format: Hardback (389 pages)

Kate Fordham, escaping terrible trauma, has fled to the beautiful sunlit city of Granada, the ancient capital of the Moors in Spain, where she is scraping by with an unfulfilling job in a busy bar. One day in the glorious gardens of the Alhambra, once home to Sultan Abu Abdullah Mohammed, also known as Boabdil, Kate finds a scrap of paper hidden in one of the ancient walls. Upon it, in strange symbols, has been inscribed a message from another age. It has lain undiscovered since before the Fall of Granada in 1492, when the city was surrendered to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate’s life forever.. (Goodreads)

Right now, I’m going through a reading slump. The last few books had been a struggle to get through. So, in an effort to try and get over this decided to pick up in an effort to pallet cleanse my reading habits. The fact that it had split timeline really intrigued me. This, along with the fact that the past sections were about a period and area of the world I was unfamiliar about, the book felt like the perfect tonic.

Thankfully, this book was such an easy, sumptuous and compelling read, it was no toil to read this book. Though it took a little while for me to become invested in the present day’s main character, Kate; the parts set in the past, which were about Blessing, the “Special Guardian” to the last Sultan of Granada transported me to the time and place with such ease. It seemed that these two-time periods had very little in common, but as Blessing and Kates story progressed, I began to see how these two very different people had so much in common. Both sacrificed so much to keep the people they loved safe.

As I said above, Blessings story was the one I really enjoyed, not just the new culture that I was given some insight into, but also Blessing as a character. His relationship with the Abdullah was an interesting one. You could tell that the feelings Blessing held for Abdullah were more than platonic and at times there were hints that these were mutual for Abdullah. However, due to the time, Abdullah’s religion and the fact that he had to marry for political purposes, this would be all but impossible. Having to watch Blessing love Abdullah from afar was heart breaking to watch and yet my admiration for him did not wane due to the self-sacrifice that Blessing put himself through. There were a couple of instances were this was an act of treason, yet during this tumultuous times, Abdullah and his family were nothing but pawns. If there is one thing or aspect of Blessing, as character, I felt wasn’t needed or added nothing, it was a revelation about him at the end of the book. It wasn’t enough to detract a lot from the book, but it didn’t add anything either.

Through Blessings eyes, I could get a very good picture of who Abdullah was as a person. Yes, this is a piece of fiction, but it made him much more rounded. I don’t know if this is an accurate representation of this person. This may be down to the fact that history is written by the victors of battles. The author did state that history may have been unkind to the last Sultan of Granada and this was her choice in portraying him in this way. As such, the man she has presented could be an accurate portrayal of him. Abdullah came across as a very conflicted man. Having seen what his father put Granadas people through, he didn’t want this to continue. Every action and decision that Abdullah took was all to try and secure peace in the area. Though history knows that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had a thirst to conquer the region. We know what the outcome was, but Johnson still had me hoping that everything would come out ok in the end. After finishing the book, I tried to research what happened to Abdullah after the fall of Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella, but little information was found about him.

As for Kate, I knew that she was running from something, but I didn’t know what it was. With the flashbacks to how she ended up in modern day Granada took a dark and sinister turn. At first she seemed a rather weak character, but when you find out what happened during her relationship and subsequent marriage to her husband, I had a complete 180 on her. From someone who had been completely broken in body and spirit, she risks everything to make sure her unborn child escapes the future she sees. What made this self-sacrifice so great was that Kate gave up her son to her sister and her chance of being a mother, by giving him to her twin sister to raise.

The end of the book was bitter sweet, for while Blessing and Abdullahs story ended so tragically, Kates was the start of something with hope.

Court of Lions was the book I needed to get out of my reading slump. Johnson has written a book that is both an excellent work of Historical and Contemporary Fiction. This is difficult to pull off, but after reading this Johnson is an author who is now on my radar. It has so many different elements such as mystery, romance and thriller mixed together. Reading this was a pleasure and I quickly found myself mesmerised by the multiple stories.





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