Friday, February 2, 2018

Court of Lions: A New Novel by Jane Johnson

Greetings!  I am featuring Jane Johnson today.  Her novels include The Tenth Gift, The Sultan's Wife and The Salt Road.  You can follow Ms. Johnson on Amazon, Goodreads and Bookbub.  To discover more about Jane Johnson's books and life visit her website.

Court of Lions is the latest novel by author Jane Johnson.  In the present day, Kate Fordham is an Englishwoman living incognito in Granada, Spain.  Kate is hiding from her abusive husband, James.  One day Kate is visiting the Alhambra and finds a small piece of paper with unusual writing on it hidden in a wall in the garden.  How long has that paper lain hidden in the wall?   Kate meets friends at the Alhambra who help her discover what is on the paper and its origins.  Kate is worried about her sister, Jess after she receives a coded email from her.  James has found Jess and taken something very precious. It will not be long before he tracks down Kate. 

Blessings is a companion to Prince Abu Abdullah Mohammed in Granada in 1476.  Blessings cares for Prince Abu aka Momo, but must keep his feelings to himself.  As Momo gets older, the tasks set to Blessings by Momo become more challenging.  Momo’s father, Sultan Moulay Hasan takes a mistress who will bring conflict to the palace that will forever change Momo’s life.   Then there is Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand with their Inquisition.  What will happen to Blessings and Prince Abu? 

Court of Lions is a dual time line story (alternating chapters).  The book is a slower-paced story that took me a short time to become engaged.  I found the writing to be descriptive.  The vivid descriptions of the Alhambra (I adored the tile descriptions) and the region allow readers to visualize it (I would love to visit it).  The historical sections seemed more alive than those set in the present day. As the book progresses, we find out why Kate is hiding in Granada, how she met James and what happened to their marriage.  Kate was a bit of a contradiction (and a little hard to like at times).  I thought she would be more afraid of getting involved with another man after her disastrous relationship with James.  The romantic entanglement felt predictable, but he was needed to aid the story.   Blessings history is revealed throughout the story.  We find out why he had to leave his tribe and came to be with Prince Abu.  Blessings was devoted to Prince Abu and would do anything he requested.   I was curious as to how the two separate storylines related, but it becomes more obvious as the novel progresses.   The author did a wonderful job at incorporating the history into the book.  She made the time-period come alive and beautifully weaved it into her story.  It is obvious that Ms. Johnson did her research for Court of Lions.  Christopher Columbus even makes an appearance.  Blessings story takes place over twenty years while Kate’s section encompasses less than one month.  Some of the themes presented in Court of Lions are love, poverty, grief, heartache, differences and similarities between religions, religious persecution, friendship, greed, cultural discrimination, family, violence, war, bond between sisters, domestic abuse and passion.  I do wish readers to know that there is foul language, graphic violence and descriptions of intimate relations included in Court of Lions.  To discover what is written on the scrap of paper Kate found at the Alhambra and get swept back in time, then grab a copy of Court of LionsCourt of Lions will be available on March 6.  Find an extract from Court of Lions below:

Granada, 1476, or in the Heigra Sha’ban 891

         He stroked the tiled skin of the palace wall, and I wished suddenly, fervently, it were my skin he touched with such tenderness.
         “Look, Blessings,” he said again. “Really look. What do you see?”
         I was bored now. “Patterns,” I said, deliberately obtuse. “Just patterns.”
         Prince Abu Abdullah Mohammed, heir to the throne of Granada, known to me as Momo, sighed. Sometimes he was so patient it made me want to break things. “Spiderwebs—can’t you see them? Hundreds of spiderwebs, thousands of them.”
         They didn’t look much like spiderwebs to me, who had seen real ones stretched between cactuses in the desert, their fragile filaments barely catching the light. These webs were green, and gold, and red, and white. I supposed the craftsmen had used their imagination and jewelled them up. Sultans didn’t want their palaces adorned with real webs: they employed a battalion of slaves to get rid of all such traces of reality.
         “They represent the webs the spiders made to protect the Prophet when he was fleeing his enemies on the road to Medina,” Momo went on.
         He liked to educate me in such matters, since he regarded me as a heathen, a wild little savage. Both were pet names for me and I had allowed them to define me.
         “The Prophet, peace be upon him, hid in a cave in the mountains and the spiders worked furiously to spin their webs across the entrance. When the murderers came upon the cave in which he hid, the webs were so thick they passed by, convinced no one could have been there in years.”
         I yawned. I had heard the story before. “Can’t we go outside?” I whined.
         “In a minute. The men who made this zellij were the finest craftsmen in the world. Imagine the care and patience it must take to cut each piece so precisely.” His finger traced the design of the intricately pieced together tiling. There was such awe in his voice. It might seem mad to be jealous of a wall, but I was.
         When they brought me to the Alhambra, it seemed so massive I was scared of it. The ceilings, so high, so heavy with detail in carved and coffered wood; or worse, the lacy plasterwork, cascading like frozen water or giant honeycombs. It all simply terrified me. I was so sure they would fall on me in the night that I could not sleep and would creep out into one of the courtyards and curl up in a niche there. Before I came here, I had only ever slept under a low camel-hide tent or a canopy of stars. It took me months to get used to being indoors. If it hadn’t been for Momo, I would long since have run away.
         He clasped my hand and led me into the next room. “How’s your Arabic coming along? Can you read this inscription yet?” he persisted. The stylized calligraphy ran in a frieze across the fretted plasterwork. I sighed. It would be about God. It was always about God, and in Classical Arabic, which had no connection to my language. Reluctantly, I raised my eyes. The thought of sunshine and oranges, of fountains and wet skin, was calling to me. Working from right to left, I gabbled it off by memory:
         I am a garden adorned by beauty:

         I will know whether you look at my beauty.

         O, Mohammed, my king, I try to be equal to

         the finest thing that has existed or will ever exist.

         A more personal connection with these words suddenly struck me, and I found myself blushing. But Momo did not notice. His intense amber gaze had gone distant.
         “A king. One day I will be sultan. I will sit on the throne of Granada and dispense my kingdom’s laws and defend its people.” His voice was dreamy. He blinked and looked back at me. “What do you think about that?”
         I made a face. “Sounds boring. Who in his right mind would want to be a king?” I grabbed him by the hand and dragged him outside into the light of day.

I hope Court of Lions has captured your interest.  I am taking the weekend off from my blog so I can continue my work in my attic (crawl space is a more apt term).  I am slowly getting it cleaned out and repairs completed.  I will return on Monday with my thoughts on Amish Cooking Class - The Celebration by Wanda J. Brunstetter.  May you have a remarkable day.  Take care and Happy Reading!

The Avid Reader  

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