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More About This Title THE SHINING CITY


This is the story of a city, a city that is now in ruins: Madinat al Zahra.  The year is 947 AD, a time when southern Spain is under the rule of the Moors.  The ruler, Caliph al Rahman III is rich, powerful and cultured.  His lands are, at long last, at peace and the capital, Córdoba, is considered to be not only the most beautiful city in the civilised world but also the seat of learning and culture.  Against this background we meet the artisan Qasim - he and his family have moved to Madinat al Zahra to make their fortune as potters.  
Qasim is a good husband and father.  He works hard, says his prayers and keeps out of trouble.  But Qasim has a secret; his past is not what it seems.  When a stranger arrives asking questions about him, he is worried that his secret will be discovered and everything he has worked for will be destroyed.
In the meantime, unbeknown to Qasim, his youngest son, Omar meets and falls in love with a slave girl who has been sold into the Caliph’s harem. The young man is obsessed with the thought of seeing this beautiful woman again and breaks into the palace grounds to meet her. Omar’s infatuation with the slave girl has consequences that he could never have foreseen, not only for himself but for all his family.


The Shining City by Joan Fallon is a beautifully told story set in tenth-century Spain which focuses on a city in southern Spain that flourished for a brief time only: Madinat al Zahra.
Built by the caliph, it becomes a rival to the capital, Cordoba. The book covers many aspects of the times: history, culture, religion and day-to-day life. Giving great attention to detail, Fallon depicts court etiquette with the same confidence as minor details, such as bakery and food preparation. I knew comparatively little about Spain under Muslim rule and found myself easily and entertainingly educated.
The characters are well chosen and developed, likeable and driven by their dreams and ambitions. This is a story of the little man seeking his fortune with insights into the rules of Muslim life, life at court, slavery, loyalty, betrayal, forbidden love and human tragedy.

The book is very well written, perfectly paced and atmospheric. It feels authentic, has a good story and a fascinating topic.


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