Friday, 26 June 2015

Darius Reviews: The Shining City

The Shining City (Book One in The al-Andalus Trilogy) by Joan Fallon
Review by Darius Stransky

See below to find how you could win a FREE COPY of 
The Shining City
Drawing July 8, 2015
This drawing has been held and a winner announced at Facebook.
Please see new reviews for more chances!

We have a giveaway with every review!

Let me start by saying what I think historical fiction should bring to the reader:

In historical fiction, setting is the most important literary element. As the author is writing about a particular time in history, the information about the time period must be accurate, authentic, or both. To create accurate and authentic settings in their books, authors must research the time period thoroughly.
The success – or not - of a good story stands or falls within the first one thousand words, where the reader is either hooked and continues reading or (all too often) finds him/her self unable to empathise with the character/setting/voice of the protagonists. Joan Fallon passed this first hurdle with ease and aplomb as we meet Omar (son of Qasim).

C√≥rdoba 987 AD

The old man sat in the shade of the mosque wall. It was still early but already the heat was building with its usual summer ferocity. He loosened his robe slightly and fanned himself with the napkin he had in his hand. Omar was not a rich man but neither was he poor. His djubba was made of the finest white cotton, with long narrow sleeves and over that he wore his djellaba, a hooded cloak of the same material. It was light, cool and comfortable. He was of the generation for whom appearances mattered. Even his cap, crocheted in a green and white design, sat elegantly on his long, white hair.  His beard was trimmed and shaped; once it would have been touched with henna but now it was as white as his hair.

By the simple stratagem of questioning from younger boys we are plunged into the mysterious world of the harem in a long-forgotten city (now in ruins) during the middle of the tenth century.

‘Is it true that you are more than a hundred?’ Ahmad asked.
‘No, it’s not true, although I certainly feel like it some days. Now what is it you want to know?’
‘Have you ever been inside the Khalifa’s harem?’ Musa blurted out.
‘The Khalifa’s harem?’
‘Yes, what’s it like?’ they both chorused.
‘Well ...’
The waiter arrived and set the freshly brewed mint tea on the table.
‘Maybe something sweet for the boys to eat,’ Omar said, looking at the waiter.
Omar turned back to his eager audience.
‘So, what were you saying?’
‘The harem.’
‘Oh yes.’

The setting is southern Spain when the Moors ruled with diligence and style. This is immediately and sharply contrasted with the basic villages of Saxony and the brutal treatment of those peoples as we are introduced to Isolde. Ah the lovely Isolde! A heroine formed from basic clay that undergoes such a change as only dreams are made of. We know – through excellent wordplay – that this girl will break hearts as easily as Fatima (Quasim’s wife) breaks an egg when preparing a family meal, and what a dish Isolde turns out to be!

Thus we see Fallon’s tenth century world through the eyes of a young Omar, and Omar only has eyes for Isolde.

Here is the nub of the plot for we know - even in our modern lives - that the course of young love is never smooth. Add to that a ‘forbidden’ love and there you have the nemesis of this excellent plot. The settings are outstanding and the novel shows the extraordinary amount of research that Fallon undertook. If you enjoy detail - lots of detail - then this is the book for you.

All books need a sub-plot and in The Shining City such a stratagem is there for you as Qasim has a secret which … I’ll leave you, dear reader, to delve into that interesting thread.

Life is full of consequences isn’t it? At the outset we meet a family, and the consequences for this family are fraught with danger and intrigue. I think you will enjoy the journey. Yet consider this - the vibrant ‘shining city’ of the title once blossomed and grew before reaching its nadir and falling into ruin. Such an event often happens in the lives of men and women as we charter a path through our brief sojourn on the earth. Love blossoms and we think it will last for ever but events conspire and we are left with only sadness and memories of what might have been. Yet we make our mark and a shadow of our life lives on just like the outlines of a once great city, The Shining City.

Author Joan Fallon has so graciously offered a FREE COPY of The Shining City for one lucky winner. 
(Paperback or choice of e-book.)

To get your name in the drawing, simply comment below OR at this review's associated Facebook thread, located here

About the author

Joan Fallon began her career as a writer after moving to Spain at the start of the new millennium. Her first book was a social history inspired by the women in her new home, but since then Ms. Fallon has gone on to write various novels, many of them with a connection to Spain. 

You can find out more about the author and her books by going to her websiteThe Shining City is also available at Amazon and Amazon UK


Darius Stransky is the author of The King's Jew, a historical fiction novel set in thirteenth century England and Europe. He wrote for many years for national UK Media groups and is now a full-time novelist. You can find more at his blog and Facebook page.

Note: This post has been updated to change the date of the drawing to July 8.


  1. Fabulous review. Sounds like a great read

  2. another interesting time and place that I have neglected...

  3. Thank you for an engaging review that has now added another novel to my TBR list!

  4. Sounds like a very exotic Spain. Not what normally comes to mind. Thank you for the giveaway.

  5. I love novels with an oriental setting. Moorish Granada and Cordoba - magical places that gave so much to the culture and landscape of Spain

  6. I loved our stay in Le Castil de Monda for our silver wedding anniversary, its a beautiful country, it will be 13 years ago this week since we stayed there.
    Great review, would love to win a copy of this book


  7. I would be happy to read a copy of The Shining city. I visited Cordoba ( walked the old Jewish quarter and saw the statue of Maimonedes) and Seville ( the church within a Mosque) and re-visited The Alhambra in early June 2015, it was 39C, so can identify with the old man, as I am in my late 70's. Mike