EMERALDS OF THE ALHAMBRA John D. Cressler
Book One of the Anthems of al-Andalus Series
Sunbury Press
ISBN: 978-1-62006-197-8 Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-62006-198-5 Mobipocket format (Kindle)
ISBN: 978-1-62006-199-2 ePub format (Nook)
June 2013
Historical Fiction

Spain 1367

In 1367 the Iberian Peninsula consisted of several kingdoms, including the Kingdom of Granada, the Kingdom of Castile, the Kingdom of Aragon, the Kingdom of Portugal, the Marinid Empire, and France. The Christian kingdoms were well on their way to purging the land of the Moors (as Muslims in Spain were called). The al-Andalus was the name given to the lands held by the Spanish Muslims. Granada, the last of the Moorish kingdoms, was ruled at the time by a moderate Arab of the Nasrid clan, Sultan Muhammad V, although he was allied with the less tolerant Marinid Empire of North Africa, as well as being a vassal state to the Christian Kingdom of Castile, under the rule of King Pedro.

King Pedro is in the midst of a civil war as his illegitimate brother, Enrique, wants the throne. Enrique is supported by the King of Aragon, King Charles V of France, as well as the Pope, all of whom want to rid the peninsula of the Moors. So when Enrique builds an army of Aragonese, French, and Breton soldiers to invade Castile, the civil war begins in earnest.

Among the many Bretons who are enlisted, one officer, Sir William Chandon, leads a troop of cavalry to assist the fort at Jaen, close to the Granada border. A childhood friend of Edward, the Black Prince, Chandon now fights on the opposite side with Enrique's forces. However, because of a secret access into the fortress, the Bretons are overwhelmed by the Granadines, and Chandon and what's left of his men are captured and taken to the Alhambra in Granada.

Chandon is badly wounded, but is cared for by the Sultan's Jewish physician, Salamun. Because of Chandon's reputation as a warrior/hero, he is treated as an important guest of the kingdom. Sultan Muhammad hopes to use Chandon as a bargaining chip in the future as he plays the dangerous games of trying to maintain his Muslim kingdom, placate Pedro, and keep on an even keel with the more fundamentalist Muslims from North Africa. It becomes clear from the moment Chandon is healthy enough, though, that someone is determined to kill him, and even worse, find a way to dispose of Muhammad.

Chandon, recovering slowly from his wounds, begins to relish the beauty of the Alhambra, the daily baths required of all, and the amazing food that he is introduced to. Although still a prisoner, and aware of the threats against him, he doesn't miss war, death, and the grief that follows.

The Sultan decides that he wants Chandon to learn Arabic and for his Grand Vizier's beautiful daughter, Layla, a scholar, to teach the Breton. He also wants Chandon to teach Layla English.  Far from enthused by her assignment, Layla sullenly begins her duties, and is pleasantly surprised by the knowledge she absorbs from the Christian. He is also stunned by the green-eyed beauty, but the two soon find ways to teach each other about their two very different worlds.

EMERALDS OF THE ALHAMBRA is an amazing trek into the little known history of the Spanish Muslims. It's not difficult to compare the more moderate Nasrid people and the Berbers who follow a much stricter code to the Muslims of today. It is also a story of tolerance, understanding, and interfaith love.

This debut novel is meticulously researched, with rich, evocative details of the incredible Alhambra, characters that are alive with passion, and a story line that is filled with mystery, romance, and historical elements that delve deeply into the relationships between Christians, Muslims, and Jews in medieval times. The author also provides maps and photographs which were very helpful. I highly recommend EMERALDS OF THE ALHAMBRA and look forward to the rest of this series.

Jani Brooks