Review: Court of Lions – Jane Johnson

4 of 5 stars
Published May 2017

This book runs along two timelines, the present and the late 15th century, both taking place in the Spanish city of Granada, home to the Moorish palace of Alhambra. The book is marketed as a cross between Ken Follett and Jodi Picoult. I like Follett’s books but not keen on Picoults but here goes, anyway.

In the present day, there’s Kate who has run away after a traumatic marriage to a controlling husband, living in Granada under an assumed name and working in a bar. She finds a small scrap of paper hidden in the old wall of the palace. It has a coded message on it and it dates from before the palace fell to Christian rule under Ferdinand and Isabella. I like that Kate is nearly 40, not nearly 20. It makes her more relateable for me. Her part of the story is a bit predictable, a new love interest and conflict with her violent, obsessed ex-husband who is determined to regain his control over her. Meanwhile, she’s investigating the past, but only just a small part of the storyline seems based on this. This will be the Picoult-like storyline.

In the past, there’s Blessings, companion to the young man who becomes the last Moorish Sultan, Abu Abdullah Mohammed. Blessings was brought from his tribe to be the companion to the young prince and they become inseparable as they grow up. He is devoted to his master and supports him through the dangerous years as the Moors fight the Christian Castilians and Aragonians. The historical detail is fantastic here and the author has some very interesting insight to add at the end of the book. This will be the Follett-like storyline (although Follett wrote a lot of spy thrillers, he also wrote one of my favourite ever books, Pillars of the Earth, a superb historical novel around the building of a medieval cathedral. There’s a sequel, but it’s more soapy and Picoultish. Still good, but not as good as Pillars which, if you like historical fiction, I highly recommend. But I digress.)

The book is about love, in both eras. Unrequited love, passion, loving or being involved with the wrong person, control, obsession. It’s about reconciling the past, your own or the historical past. Fighting for what you believe in. Fighting for your very survival. Most of the book is set in the past and for me, where I really like historical fiction, that was the best part. The present day plot wasn’t really developed enough to get invested in and the climax ended on a cliffhanger before another large segement of the historical storyline before you got back to finding out what actually happened. I wasn’t that keen on the ultimate resolution of the story, either but then, more plot  surrounding the present likely would have made a difference. Overall, though, for the historical story, very good.

Thanks to Doubleday and Goodreads for the copy for review.


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