Fortune’s Lament

Fortune’s Lament by John D. Cressler, the third book in the Anthems of Al-Andalus series, is set in 15th century Al-Andulus, Spain. The narrative is detailed, nuanced and sensual and some of the descriptive passages are beautiful. The author has done a marvellous job of researching such difficult subjects as medicine and surgery, cannon and warfare in the period. It’s both a love story and a war story set in the era of Isabella and Fernando’s (Ferdinand) war to win the Moorish sultanate for Spain and the rise of the Inquisition. There is plenty of palace intrigue, bedroom antics and battlefield drama in this well-told tale.

The protagonists are Danah, and the ‘Falcon Brothers’, Yusef and Umar. Danah is a budding yet talented physician. Not altogether approving of her vocation, her parents want her to marry if she is to continue her studies. Their choice is perfect: a young and handsome budding surgeon who she likes well enough. The problem is she has already briefly met Yusef and each has fallen in love with the other, though neither knows it.

Meanwhile, at the palace, the Sultan has fallen madly in love with a concubine who has him in the palm of her hand, wrapped around her little finger and dancing to her tune. Upon becoming pregnant, she persuades him to banish his First Wife and heir and marry her, setting the scene for a factional war in Granada itself.

I found the love story rather tedious. To begin with, it is portrayed as love at first sight, and – call me unromantic – I just don’t find that credible. When Yusef is wounded he comes under Danah’s care and that’s when the tedium sets in – the looks, the stolen touches, the agonising because she is now betrothed to another man went on too long before the consummation. It is a long book and could have been better with some of that cut. Danah has a temper and Yusef spends a period feeling sorry for himself, but they are just too saccharine and the other characters who populate this storyline gush over them a little too much. They all would have benefited from a few flaws.

We also meet the man we know as Christopher Columbus, although it’s hard to know why since he had no part to play in any plot.

The other storylines, which have a grand sweep, were far more compelling and moved along at a better pace. The characters were more interesting than Danah and Yusef because they were flawed – actually some were downright wicked.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book.


This review was written for Discovering Diamonds.

Am I a closet psychopath?

I have killed. I can write that shamelessly and without conscience. As a historical novelist, I have often killed my characters off. Many have died in battle, by sword or axe or mace, and some have been executed either by hanging or beheading. Some have died in spectacular fashion like the one who was crushed by an elephant (true) and the one who was torn apart by wild horses. (I think that was fiction but, in any case, neither of those works made it into print.) Then there was the famous case of the two princes who were smothered under pillows. In my new novel (still under construction – more about that in a later post) many are burned alive. Sometimes I’m happy to shuffle them off to a better world. Sometimes I’m sorry to see them go.

In relatively few cases do my characters die in their beds. So, I wonder, what attracts me to tragedy, to stories where people die sometimes hideously? I have to try to put myself in their heads, feel what they feel as a foot of cold steel enters a man’s belly or the weight of a dying elephant turns another’s bones to powder in an instant. How is it I can do that without flinching?

One definition of a psychopath: An unstable and aggressive person. ‘Schoolyard psychopaths will gather around a fight to encourage the combatant.’ Was that me? Well, not really. I was more likely to jump right in, fists flying. OK, that’s kind of aggressive. But I don’t slow the car when passing an accident scene with my neck craned looking for blood.

So am I a closet psychopath? Are you?

Written with tongue firmly in cheek.

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