Court of Lions by Jane Johnson
Five centuries earlier, Blessings is court companion to Prince Abu Abdullah Mohammed in the Alhambra Palace. For a slave, his life isn’t so bad, except that he daren’t admit he loves the prince as more than a loyal subject or friend. As the prince assumes the adult responsibilities of marriage, and the defence of the Muslim territories against the encroachment of Christianity, and the machinations of Ferdinand and Isabella, Blessings finds himself sorely tested.
The two threads intertwine with Kate’s discovery of a scrap of paper bearing an unfamiliar script in the walls of the Alhambra. Her curiosity leads her to the Muslims of the city, specifically those of Berber and Tuareg heritage, amongst whom she finds the warm welcome she desperately needs, after her marriage to an abusive psychopath.
Having visited Granada several times, I was drawn to this novel by its setting. With elements of romance and psychological suspense, I particularly appreciated Court of Lions for its refreshingly non-Christian centred history of the fall of Granada. Although not quite as ignorant as Kate claimed to be, I also appreciated the foray into Berber culture from someone (being married to a Berber) with the authority to write about it. Thanks to Head of Zeus for my review copy.
Spanish Crossings by John Simmons
Lorna lends her support to the Basque Children’s Community, set up to assist the 4000 refugee children given shelter in Britain while their parents are resisting the fascists. She befriends fifteen-year-old Pepe, showing him around London until he slips away from the authorities only to show up six years later to declare his love. Although at heart a pacifist, Lorna is committed to the war and persuades Pepe to sign up. When he returns, they marry and have a child, although Lorna can never completely count on his loyalty to his English family.
I enjoyed this for the history, especially regarding the evacuation of the Basque children which I hadn’t known about until it was touched on in The Winterlings. I also found the ending poignant, where Pepe takes his family to a French town on the border with Spain. But I think the novel would have been stronger if it were about a third shorter. Thanks to Urbane Publications for my review copy.