Book Reviews · Reading Thoughts

Review: Court of Lions, by Jane Johnson

I have to start by saying straight off that I absolutely loved this novel, and that I now have a deep urge to book the first flight out to Granada. Whilst my job prevents me from doing the latter, I can bring my love of the former to everybody who will listen.
The beauty of this book is that it ties together two plot strands in a way that, at first glance, have hardly anything to do with each other, but whose similarities are slowly revealed as the story goes on- and provides us with two equally compelling stories, and views of Granada. One is set in the present day: Kate, who is working as a waitress in a bar, has fled there to escape her past, and her abusive husband, but finds a scrap of paper that dates back to before the fall of the city to the Christians in the fifteenth century. It’s a confession of love, and it’s our opening into the story of Blessings, the slave to the last Moorish Prince of Granada, who witnesses the slow decline and fall of their empire in the most beautiful palace in the world, the Alhambra.
The chance to explore two sides of the same city, five hundred years apart, is fascinating, as are our protagonists. There’s an air of mystery to both of them: Kate is running from her past, and lives hand-to-mouth in a way that would make many gap-year students green with envy. Curious, desperate, interesting and determined, she’s a relatable person, and as she becomes more involved with the city, and Blessings’ story, so do we.
Blessings is an outsider in much the same way Kate is, but where she’s running from her husband, he’s in love. His is very much a love story, set in one of the most opulent courts in the world, and Jane Johnson realises the past in lavish detail: from the heat, to the dusty plains, to the gorgeous building itself, she makes you feel like you’re really there. Life at court is fascinating: the politics are as complex as anything in Game of Thrones or the Tudor court, and the characters she creates are fully believable: all rounded, with ulterior motives or hidden depths that you don’t realise are there until the end of the novel: though this is also true in Kate’s world, the main villain is too much a cut-and-dry ‘evil person’ to hold the fascination of the complex politics of Blessings’ world.
The intensity of Johnson’s storytelling makes the plots even more engaging, especially as they start to intertwine. As Kate discovers fragments of Blessings’ story, and finds love, we’re living his pain as he loyally supports his prince through rebellion, marriage, imprisonment and war. Whereas Kate’s story is about her rebuilding and taking back control of her life, Blessings has lost control over his. Jane Johnson weaves her plot threads together carefully, cleverly timing each chapter and cliffhanger for maximum impact, and as they both build to very different crescendos, the tension increases too: it’s a mark of how much I grew to care about the two characters that I didn’t put down the book until the end.
Though this book is everything I could expect- or want- from an adventure, or romance, story, at its heart it’s a love song to the city of Granada. Johnson imbues every description of the city with such love that it practically sings from the page, and adds fresh life to the stories of the people on the page. Intriguing and colourful, this book is definitely one to add to your reading list.
Not to mention your travelling list.

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