I do sometimes wish I could read several books a day – because here’s another I would have loved to add to my reading list. Court of Lions by Jane Johnson was published by Head of Zeus in hardback and for kindle in July last year, and in paperback on 11th January. I very much enjoyed Jane Johnson’s writing when I read The Sultan’s Wife back in 2012 – I remember that I read it for an industry award, which might explain why I can’t track down my review. And my goodness, I really like the look of this one…
An epic saga of romance and redemption. Court of Lions brings one of the great turning points in history to life, through the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada.
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.
Court of Lions brings one of the great turning-points in history to life, telling the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada, as they both move towards their cataclysmic destinies.
So, sadly no review from me – but with thanks to Clare at Head of Zeus, I’m delighted to share an extract…
His words were lost in the storm surge of blood in my ears. I tore at the rich bedcover with brutal strength and it fell away. There, spangled with the light of the candle lantern, was my left leg, bandaged where the roof tiles had ripped at me. But as to the right … There was my thigh, my knee and then— “Where’s the rest of it?” I wailed.
“Your foot was smashed to pieces. It started to rot, and the smell …”
“My foot rotted?” Dead rats rotting in Fez drains, sick sweet and carrion stench, maggots swarming over them … Bile rose in my throat. I swallowed it down. “But how will I run?” Stupid question. How would I walk? How would I do anything at all?
I had seen cripples in the marketplaces of Morocco, gimping along on sticks or pushing themselves around on wheeled trolleys, begging for coin. Was that my future? Would this grown-up prince, who had come back with stubble on his chin and a deeper voice, who spoke of swords and being a man, send me off now that I was broken? I turned away so he would not see my loss of composure. The concept of asshak, the dignified acceptance of even the worst fate, was the bedrock of my people.
“Don’t, Blessings, don’t. If I could take your pain and bear it myself, I would.”
I lay there, shamed by the desperation in his voice. He had sold his sword, risked his uncle’s fury, sent his father’s vizier to Córdoba for better doctors, saved my life. But for what? To be a palace cripple? Self-pity welled up again. I forced it down, like the bile. Then I showed him a mask of my face. “I will survive this,” I told him, and watched as his grimace relaxed. “Thank you for saving me, my prince.”
“Oh, Blessings,” he said, choking. “If I hadn’t encouraged you, this wouldn’t have happened. Everything they say about me is true: I am cursed.”
“What do the stars know? They’re just there to help us navigate a course in the darkness. They can’t tell you your future. But I can.”
“Can you, Blessings?”
“I was taught by my mother: our people believe that the power of seeing is passed down the line, from mother to son. Or daughter.”
“How do you do it? By numbers, or lines of the Quran? Or with chicken entrails, like the ancients?”
“Every man’s fate is written in his hand, not in the stars,” I said, taking his into my own. So warm, but more muscled than it had been, some coarseness on the pads of the fingers, calluses in the palm. He was no longer a boy: they were making him into a warrior, and if he went to war, I knew I would lose him. “Look here,” I said, tracing a vertical line. “Such an old man you will grow to be, though there is suffering to bear on the way. Here is where your heart lies.” I touched the spot just above the centre of his palm. “Love is always with you, closer than you think. Be careful to keep it close.”
He laughed and tried to pull his hand away. “You’re such a little heathen.”
I held on to him. “Don’t put me aside because of my leg,” I said fiercely.
Momo looked as if I’d struck him. “Do you think I’m some sort of monster?”
“I won’t be able to walk or run, or do the things we used to do. I won’t be able to do anything much at all.”
“You will,” he said. A deep line formed between the hawk’s wings of his eyebrows. Then he said, “Blessings, you shall be my Special Guardian, always by my side. You will be my guard, and I yours: by Allah the Most Mighty and Merciful I swear it.”
I almost laughed and spoiled the moment. I could not even stand, let alone defend him. “Should we swear it in blood?” I nodded to his belt-knife.
He looked shocked. “Make a blood covenant? Blood is najis, unclean. That would be an affront to God.”
He had changed in more ways than appearance, I thought. I bowed my head. “Prince Mohammed, I will be your Special Guardian.”
The hug he gave me stole my breath. It was almost worth losing a foot just for that.
About the author
Jane Johnson is from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for over 20 years, as a bookseller, publisher and writer. She is responsible for the publishing of many major authors, including George RR Martin.
In 2005 she was in Morocco researching the story of a distant family member who was abducted from a Cornish church in 1625 by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa, when a near-fatal climbing incident caused her to rethink her future. She returned home, gave up her office job in London, and moved to Morocco.
She married her own ‘Berber pirate’ and now they split their time between Cornwall and a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. She still works, remotely, as Fiction Publishing Director for HarperCollins.