21 Mar 2013

THE LION OF CAIRO.

THE LION OF CAIRO by SCOTT ODEN.

On the banks of the Nile, in a city alive with intrigue, Caliph Rashid al-Hasan rules as a figurehead over a crumbling empire. In the shadow of the Grey Mosque, generals vie for power and influence under the scheming eyes of a venal grand vizier. Warring factions use murder and terror to silence their opponents. Egypt bleeds - and the scent draws her enemies in: the swaggering Shirkuh, who serves the Sultan of Damascus, and Amalric, king of Jerusalem, whose greed is insatiable and whose Crusader knights are hungry for a fight.

Yet all is not lost. In a distant land, there lives an old man who holds the power of life and death over the Moslem world. He has decided to help the Caliph and sends his greatest weapon. A single man. An Assassin. The one they call the Emir of the Knife...
...... Outer back cover.

FIRST SENTENCE (Prologue): The rasp and slither of steel died away, the sound lost to a wind that howled over snow-clad ridges, pouring into the passes and sheltered valleys of the high Afghan Mountains.

MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 27): The eunuch stopped; ebony beads ticked together as he ran them through his manicured fingers, a sound like thoughts falling into place.

MY THOUGHTS: Attracted first by the front cover, not for me the bare-chested men that grace many a cover, preferring a bit of mystery I love the dark smouldering eyes of this character presumably Assad, aka Emir of the Knife.

Set in Egypt, albeit, as the author acknowledges, an Egypt more of fable and legend than actual history, full of eunuchs, concubines, courtesans and secret passages and described as a cross between The Arabian Nights and a Hollywood blockbuster, I should have loved The Lion Of Cairo and yet I didn't.

A truly strange read, beautifully written and yet totally at odds with itself in that it was at once original and yet totally cliched, with descriptions nothing short of poetic (see my memorable moment) and yet, at the same time, so corny, so kitsch ("Aye. He  ... He offered us a whore's weight in silver if we knew anything, but we told 'em to bugger off, mistress." - pg 159) as to be laughable.

Perhaps too much Hollywood blockbuster and not enough Arabian Nights for my liking. The numerous fight scenes whilst generally pretty graphic did at times verge on the comical in that Assad (aka the Assassin) was often to be found taking on (and killing) several armed foes at once without breaking into so much as a sweat making me think this perfect material for one of those corny tv series that are so bad as to be good.

KEEP IT OR NOT?: Ex-library stock destined for a charity shop.


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15 comments:

Nina said...

Is this a movie? I should watch it. I agree with you about the cover. Very mysterious. :)

Kelly said...

I like the potential the cover promises, as well...but from your despription of the story, I doubt I would want to read it.

....Petty Witter said...

No, Nina. Not a movie ...... yet .... though I suspect it could well be made into one.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I have to admit, I would be attracted to that cover. Even cliched, it might be worth a read.

Yvonne@fiction-books said...

Hi Tracy,

I see that the author has written four books in total and they are all set in the ancient worlds ... Egypt, Greece etc.

Cliches notwithstanding, I don't think that this is a book to be adding to my reading list. I guess if it was an author review request, I would make a good fist at concentrating on the storyline, but it certainly wouldn't attract me any other way.

I am sorry you felt that you couldn't offer a more positive review, but thanks for being so honest and open with your thoughts.

Yvonne

Stephanie@Fairday's Blog said...

I have not read this one- nor have I heard of it. I appreciated your honest review, but I don't think this one is for me. Thanks for sharing!

Sandy M. said...

Thank you for the review, Petty Witter :)

I also love books that are beautifully written :) Have you read any of Laurence van der Post? Especially in his 'A Story Like The Wind' the writing is like reading poetry in prose. Another book I find to be like that is 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' - the writing has such beautiful cadence and imagery. Have you read it?

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I do like that cover. It's different and intriguing, but sorry it wasn't a winner within the pages. Sounds a bit too corny for me too.

Aunt Mary said...

Dear Tracy,
Thank you so much for the description.I appreciate your honesty. You are right that the cover is very attractive but I think it is not the one I would want to read.

Claudine G. said...

I wasn't as attracted to the cover as I was to that memorable line. There is some beautiful writing (I like the part about the beads ticking like his thoughts coming together), but sounding authentic can be tricky, especially with dialogue in historical fiction. As usual, I love hearing your thoughts on your reads, Petty, so thanks for sharing!

Taranaich said...

A shame you didn't like the book, but at least you gave it a read. I think the problem is the "Arabian Nights" appellation can be a bit misleading: the book's set in the 12th Century, which is a very different milieu from both the Sassanid dynasty (the setting of Arabian Nights) and the Islamic Golden Age (when the stories were written): the Crusades, the decline of the Fatimids, the impending Mongol invasions, and the accompanying strife between Sunni and Shia Islam presented a very different landscape from the heyday of Scheherazade. In addition, it's much more historical fiction than historical fantasy, for the most part.

If the story wasn't "Arabian Nights" enough for you, I heartily recommend Howard Andrew Jones' The Desert of Souls and the sequel The Bones of the Old Ones: it's explicitly set in the time of Harun al-Rashid, and the supernatural is much more active in the story than the more subtle Lion of Cairo

The numerous fight scenes whilst generally pretty graphic did at times verge on the comical in that Assad (aka the Assassin) was often to be found taking on (and killing) several armed foes at once without breaking into so much as a sweat making me think this perfect material for one of those corny tv series that are so bad as to be good.

Are you suggesting there weren't people in history who could take on several armed foes at once without breaking into so much as a sweat? If there's one thing I've learned reading historical accounts, it's that what would be considered unbelievable for a corny tv show have a counterpart in history that makes it seem practically quaint. See Thomas Baker, Alvin York, Audie Murphy, the viking at Stamford Bridge, Jack Churchill, etc. Nothing I found in Scott's book strikes me as unbelievable after reading history books.

Betty Manousos said...

not a book for me, but i do like the cover.
intriguing and mysterious indeed.

xx

Gina R said...

Well that is an unusual balancing act now isn't it? Not one that I would gravitate towards though I was fascinated with Egypt enough as a child to pick up a few "how to read hieroglyphic" books....doubtful this will turn up in my to read pile. Thanks for sharing though!

....Petty Witter said...

Not always a fan of books that are too poetical as to me there is a fine line between lyrical and overly flowery if you know what I mean. Anyway, thanks for those recommendations Sandy. Not books I have read, I'll certainly add them to my 'library list'.

Hi Taranaich and welcome to Pen and Paper. I appreciate your stopping by and whilst I take on board your comments I still maintain that for me much of the book was pretty incredulous. Still, each to their own, I'm glad you enjoyed Scott's book.

Sandy M. said...

I agree. I think you'll find these books safe from being flowery - just beautifully written I think :)