Monday, April 25, 2011

The Lion of Cairo by Scott Oden

The Lion of Cairo: 01

The Lion of Cairo by Scott Oden

On the banks of the ageless Nile, from a palace of gold and lapis lazuli, the young Caliph Rashid al-Hasan rules as a figurehead over a crumbling empire. Cairo is awash in deception. In the shadow of the Gray Mosque, generals and emirs jockey for position under the scheming eyes of the power grand vizier. In the crowded souks and narrow alleys, warring factions employ murder and terror to silence their opponents. Egypt bleeds. And the scent draws her enemies in like sharks: the swaggering Kurd Shirkuh, who serves the pious Sultan of Damascus and Almaric, the Christian king of Jerusalem, whose greed is insatiable and whose knights are hungry for battle.

And yet all is not lost. There is an old man who lives on a remote mountainside in a distant land. He holds the power of life and death over the warring factions of the Muslim world – and decides to come to the Caliph’s aid. He sends his greatest weapon into Egypt. He sends a single man. An Assassin. The one they call the Emir of the Knife…

The strength of the book is, perhaps best demonstrated by how many “rules” Oden breaks within the first two pages and yet, you won’t be able to put the book down. The novel starts with the much-villain-ized prologue. If you're a writer, you might have heard about that rule on not starting a novel in the middle of a fight because the reader won’t know who to cheer for? Yup, he breaks that rule, too. And by the end of that four page fight scene, I couldn’t have cared less how many rules Mr. Oden broke as long as one intriguing tool – the knife – was explained.

Mr. Oden did not disappoint me in that or any other aspect of the book. In fact, he managed to surprise me.  
Oden killed off a few characters I had come to like and did not expect to die. However, their deaths have meaning and power.  Assad, the Assassin or Emir of the Knife, is probably considered an antihero in that he rejects every core value of the normal human except for loyalty to his master. He is not particularly likeable, but he is compelling. When he entered a scene, I could not put the book down until he disappeared again and because of that, I felt like I liked him by the end of the book. Would I like to meet him in an alley? No. Way. But as a character, I still can’t wait for his return.

Lion of Cairo is an amazing tapestry of faith, betrayal, loss and just a little bit of love. If you enjoy books centered around warfare and political intrigue, run, don’t walk to the bookstore and buy this one.