Monday, May 13, 2019

Review: Sultana - The Pomegranate Tree by Lisa J. Yarde

For those with an interest in Spain’s history and who have visited the magnificent Moorish city of Granada, Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree is a must read. It is a compelling and meticulously researched novel that deserves attention.

This is the story of the last queen of Granada, Aisha al-Hurra, the very woman whose son surrendered to the Christian alliance led by King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile; the Moorish ruler, who you may have heard, told her son, “Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.”

The Alhambra, 1999 visit

When I read this quote many years ago, while exploring the wonders of the Granada palace, I longed to learn more about the plight of the kingdom in its last days. Who was this powerful Aisha who spoke so reproachfully to her son? What was her story? I wished that more had been written about this strong woman in the same way the life of her political nemesis, Queen Isabella, had been covered with great detail. This novel answered my wishes and much more.

Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree traces the journey of a wilful and ambitious Sultana, a descendant of the Nasrid dynasty, and her ascent to power as Queen of the Kingdom of Garnatah – or Granada, through marital alliances. From a young age, Aisha demonstrates an innate mastery of political intrigue, an unflinching sense of duty and a profound love of the kingdom. Watching her evolve through the key historical events leading to the fall of Granada is fascinating, and provides a rare glimpse into the lives of Granada’s rulers in that period. The novel is a well-executed biography.

The Slaying of the Abencerrajes
Painting by Mariano Fortuny, 1870
Without revealing too much of the plot, Aisha will face dramatic upheavals in her life, and extricate herself from numerous dangers within the palace and beyond. As a character she was well-rounded and likable, allowing the reader to feel each moment. One particular scene had me gutted, and its aftermath, which dealt with the combined feelings of loss, mourning and revenge, were well-treated. The intrigue around Aisha’s twin sister, Fatimah, the tragic story of Aisha’s mother and the engaging romance with Aisha’s first husband were all fascinating.

The banquet scene, which saw the nobles of the Abencerraje family massacred by Muley Hacén, unravelled with great suspense, and would make a fantastic film sequence.

The treatment around Aisha’s real life rival, Isabel de Solis was complex, with a highly satisfying twist. Due to the aura of mystery around de Solis, she became my favorite character. Second place would go to Aisha’s second husband and ruler of Granada, Muley Hacén, who is entirely believable in his romantic and historical behavior.

So much to admire about this beautifully crafted novel. Attention to historical detail is outstanding. The prose and dialogue are evocative and cinematic. Anyone who reads historical fiction for the pleasure of being swept away into others worlds will not be disappointed – the novel paints Moorish Spain with a creative flair that is both enchanting and historically informative.

Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree is a penultimate novel in a mind blowing series of six. Its plot concludes in the year 1482, the year before Aisha engineers her son’s ascent to the throne, leaving no doubt that the final book deals with this and more, culminating in the climatic surrender of Granada.

The Sultana series no doubt crown this trailblazing author as an unsurpassed master for this unique period of history. Thank you, Lisa J. Yarde.

Want more from this author? You can find a past interview with Lisa J. Yarde here.