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I knew from the start that writing a novel set in Moorish Spain would take a lot of work. I only had a general idea about what life was like in al-Andalus and most of that was really only relevant to Granada. The Moors had been in Spain for over seven hundred years, from the time of the Moorish invasion in 711 AD until the capture of Granada in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs. There had been many rulers and many forms of government.
I was intrigued by the ruined palace of Madinat al-Zahra, just outside Córdoba, which was built between 936 and 947 AD and I decided to set my novel in the forty years from 947 to 987. A short period of time, in the scale of things and therefore much easier to research, or so I thought. Not so. Writing a historical novel requires great attention to detail and when you are completely unfamiliar with that period, it requires a great deal of research and discipline to get even the smallest details correct.
How could I make my characters come to life if I didn't know how they behaved, what their homes were like, what they wore, what they ate and even how they ate. I had to learn about the royal court as well as the common people, what it was like to be a soldier, a slave, an artisan. Most of my research was done by visiting Moorish sites and museums, reading books on the subject and, of course, trawling the internet. One of the first things I learned was that life in Moorish Spain changed dramatically over seven hundred years - what was true in Granada in the year 1400 was not the same in Córdoba seven hundred years earlier. I had to focus my research.
Then of course came the hard part - what to leave out. I had to include enough research to bring the period to life without boring my reader. After all this was a novel about love and adventure, not a history book.
THE SHINING CITY is available in paperback and as an ebook
SHORTLISTED FOR THE EDITOR'S PICK (HISTORICAL NOVELS SOCIETY REVIEW)
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.
The only thing I can criticise are the colours chosen for the cover which makes the writing difficult to read, and maybe the chosen font size and type inside the book could be improved? A very enjoyable read.
Joan Fallon is a writer and novelist living in Spain.