Shortlisted for Book of the Month Selection
Set in the very early 11th century, The Ring of Flames is the third instalment in Ms Fallon’s books about the Moorish kingdom al-Andalus, at the time rent apart by civil war as various factions struggle for control over the weak and inept ruler, the Khalifa. Once again, Ms Fallon’s knowledge of the period shines through in everything from her descriptions of the political chaos to the small details of everyday life, such as the blue turban Christians are expected to wear to what people eat and wear.
While the Khalifa, Al-Hisham, plays a pivotal if passive role in the novel, this is principally the story of the falconer Ahmad, his brothers Qasim and Rafiq, and their lives in Córdoba, capital of Al-Andalus. At the time, Córdoba is not a good place to be in. Repeatedly the city is overrun and sacked, as first one, then the other faction gains the upper hand. Ahmad and his extensive family do what they can to keep themselves and their friends safe, which is how a Jewish girl and an Anglo-Saxon monk find refuge with them.
Things go from bad to worse when Córdoba is besieged. Two years behind their walls and the citizens have eaten their horses, their goats, the children reduced to stick-like waifs, the soldiers taxed with defending the walls constantly exhausted due to lack of food. Somehow, Ahmad must find a way to guide his family—and the weak Khalifa—to safety before the besieging Berbers enter the city. But how is he to do that, when the enemies have formed a ring of flames around the city, making it impossible to sneak out through the gates?
I thoroughly enjoyed this read, immersing myself in Ms Fallon’s descriptive writing. The first few chapters are, I have to be honest, a little slow — and a tad confusing as new characters are introduced at a furious pace — but once Ms Fallon settles into her story she takes me along on an educational and exciting journey through a world I knew little about prior to reading her books. I soon found myself entirely submerged in the long-ago Córdoba, running side by side with Ahmed and his family. It is therefore with some surprise I close the book to discover I am not, in fact, in the hot and dusty Al-Andalus — testament to Ms Fallon’s skill as a writer.
© Anna Belfrage