Sunday, December 26, 2010
The Lion of Cairo
Scott Oden's The Lion of Cairo is one of those books that I can easily imagine Robert E. Howard reading and enjoying. There's blood spilled by page two and more before page 20 and the hero, Assad, aka The Emir of the Knife, is just the kind of no nonsense fighting man that REH wrote about.
I've noted that if you hear me use the term "hits the ground running" I'm probably a happy reader and that's definitely the case here. I've enjoyed Oden's books before, notably Men of Bronze, but I can see a slightly different approach here. Plot, character description, exposition and background all come flying at the reader at lightning pace, letting you know you'd better be ready for a fast ride with this one.
Assad is an assassin of the order of Alamut. His masters bid him return to Cairo, the city where he was born, to assist the current Caliph, a man who is said to be a figurehead for more ambitious men, a veritable prisoner in his own palace. Assad is to do whatever he can to aide the caliph, whether the caliph wants him to or not. Intrigue and bloodshed ensue.
This is historical fiction but it strays into sword & sorcery territory. Assad carries a salawar, a two foot knife, which seems to be both sentient and evil, and there are other references to sorcery being a real force. In a short forward, Oden mentions that the Cairo of the book is not strictly the historical Cairo, but more the Cairo of Scheherazade, "a city where the fantastic occurs around every corner." But that doesn't mean this is a full blown fantasy novel. It fits into that area I've discussed before where it's mostly realistic but there's just enough shadowy magic to make things interesting.
Not surprisingly, the book is dedicated to Robert E. Howard. But don't worry. Oden is his own man and this isn't just a pastiche. The spirit of Howard is there but also that of Harold Lamb and other writers of pulp historical fiction. From what I understand, Lion of Cairo is the first in a trilogy. I'll buy volume two the day it hits the bookstore. Now I want a salawar...