Some cities beg for stories to be written about them.
Court of Lions, by Jane Johnson, is one of those stories and pays homage to Granada’s rich history in this daring and gripping new novel. The southern Spanish city has been the centre of one of the most fascinating land ownership conflicts in history. At times occupied by Jews, Moors, and Castilian Catholics, Granada is a veritable treasure trove of living history; its art, architecture, literature, and landscape speaking of the various cultures that have lived and died there.
Court of Lions, the title referencing a central enclave in the Alhambra of Granada, spans two time periods. First, we are introduced to Kate in the present day, who’s posing in Granada under a false name, working as a waitress and trying to avoid her haunting past. Walking through the Alhambra (the last Moorish palace in Spain built in the early 1000s), Kate stumbles across a strange note. It’s cryptic, in a language she cannot understand, and seems to be written in blood. We’re taken back to the time of the last Sultan in Granada, where war rides towards them in the form of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Castilian Catholic conquerers.
But when Kate is able to decipher the note, past starts to bleed into present. Kate’s running from her past, while Blessings, the orphan who is close to the Prince Abu Abdullah Muhammed, known affectionally to Blessings as ‘Momo’, is terrified of the future. Both will make discoveries that will change their lives forever – not all of them for the better.
The two characters of Kate and Blessings couldn’t be more different. Their circumstances are entirely opposite, one in 2017 and one in 1476, one working in a bar, the other running around with a Moorish prince. Both are faced with impossible decisions so that the juxtaposing time periods never feel at odds. For one, Blessings and Kate have an intense drive about their personalities and they are both doomed with forbidden love, though one will end up more successful than the other. And both trace the same settings and the same places through different time periods.
Granada is a city that holds history in its grasp. Court of Lions is not only successful due to its complex plot and realistic characters, but Johnson’s adeptness at writing place and locale rings true. If you’ve been to Granada, you’ll feel like you’re walking with Kate on her journey. If not, you’ll want to book a trip as soon as possible. Court of Lions is an epic work about love, death, fanaticism, and treating others with the kindness they deserve – a must read.
Jane Johnson is a British novelist and publisher. She is the UK editor for George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb and Dean Koontz and was for many years publisher of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Married to a Berber chef she met while researching The Tenth Gift, she lives in Cornwall and Morocco.