Lilian Gafni’s historical fiction novel Flower from Castile Trilogy; Book One: The Alhambra Decree is somewhat akin to holding a gaily wrapped present and not wanting to rip the paper. Although an irate author once informed me cover art is not within my realm as a reviewer, I beg to differ.
The Alhambra Decree is one of the nicest, colorful covers I’ve seen in some time. The text pops against the background. I would pick up this book based on cover art alone. Inside, the layout is a treat also. There is a flair that draws you to the past.
Now I’ve drooled over the technical aspects, let’s get down to the package inside the wrapping.
Spain’s population in 1491 is an uneasy mix of Catholics, New Christians, also known as Conversos or Moriscos (converted to Catholicism from Judaism or Islam within the last few generations), Jews and Muslim Moors in the Emirate of Granda.
Their Most Catholic Majesties, as conferred by Pope Alexander VI, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon are determined all people of Spain be united as one under the Roman Catholic Church for the sake their souls and governance of Espania.
Isabella Obrigon, the only child of Arturo Obrigon and Estrella, is a spoilt, beautiful 16 year old who resides in Seville. Life is perfect for Isabella. No desire is thwarted and her parents and nanny dote on her. She is betrothed to Juan, 17, the handsome son of noble parents and the wedding date is set for one year hence.
A note left in an egg basket delivered weekly by an elderly woman threatens Isabella’s blissful existence:
“Do not allow your daughter to marry. A great calamity will befall your house if you do.”
Impetuous Isabella pays a visit to Maria, without waiting for her parents, to demand an explanation for the note. An ill-fated decision when she is taken prisoner and transported to a mysterious location. Convinced she has been kidnapped for the purpose of raising a ransom from her wealthy parents, Isabella is dismayed to find herself at the Court of Moorish King Abdallah of Granada, in the City of Alhambra. The Granadians and the Spanish monarchs have been fighting for nearly a decade over possession of Granada.
Her captors leave Isabella with Abdallah as his ward for protection until they return for her. Before departing, one of Isabella’s captors discloses the reason for her kidnapping and transportation to King Abdallah. The explanation shatters everything Isabella thought true of her life and her parents.
While Isabella Abrigon is central to The Alhambra Decree, Gafni has interwoven her story amongst the threads of politics, religion, persecution and unwavering commitment to beliefs via viewpoints of other characters.
We discover strands of Spain’s greatest moments and worst travesties through:
- a brother’s sacred promise to his sister;
- parental devastation;
- a son who fights for his homeland;
- a woman who sacrifices herself to a torturous death to save her Jewish and Converso friends;
- two young fatherless sons who, without complete understanding, undertake a dangerous journey in obedience to their mother;
- an infamous inquisitor who believes his mission is to “extirpate heresy from the land once and for all”;
- an ambitious explorer by the name of Christophero Columbus forced to wait upon a queen’s pleasure;
- Boabdil, King of the Moors, who became a vassal to save his people and is now engulfed by his subjects’ displeasure and foreboding doom;
- a self-serving inspector who seeks to elevate himself through rescue of Isabella Abrigon;
- Spanish and Moorish soldiers who engage in battle for the coveted Granada, each side convinced of their cause;
- a Rabbi and his family who risk loss of everything they own for their God.
Flower from Castile Trilogy (Book #1 – The Alhambra Decree) is a novel of love, loss, suspicions, betrayal, fanaticism, stoicism, passage from adolescence to maturity and, above all, the will to survive to dream of a future. Gafni took an enormous approach with The Alhambra Decree. She does not present a biased view but, rather, a multi-faceted insight into the human psyche.
The Alhambra Decree is a complex novel set during a two year period in Spain. Much occurred in this short space of time; much is still debated centuries later.
MY RATING: 4/5*
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