Emeralds of the Alhambra: A Novel. John D. Cressler. Sunbury Press, Inc. May 2013. 438 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781620061978.
In today’s terrorist-dominant atmosphere throughout the world, it’s hard to believe that Muslims and Christians could live together in peace. But that’s not a point of view shared by John D. Cressler who has crafted a magnificent historical novel about the Castilian Civil War which occurred between 1367 and 1369. Two brothers, King Pedro and his bastard brother Enrique, are at war over portions of Spain, both eventually eying the Muslim city of Grenada. They plot to get enough money and the approval of both Muslims and Christians, including the Pope, as well as the assistance of French and English soldiers. They are even willing to hire a group of mercenaries known as the fiercest fighters in the world but also known for their unspeakable brutality and selfish motives and goals once victory is achieved.
Into this world comes the English knight William Chandon, who is severely wounded in the Battle of Jaen and taken prisoner by the troops of Sultan of Granada. It is felt that he serves the purpose of a pawn to be used at the right time rather than be killed as the infidel he is to Muslim believers. To that end, the Sultan’s physician saves Chandon’s life and is ordered to educate him in Arabic language and culture and to learn English from him. Layla is the unusual Arab woman who is intelligent, kind-hearted, and very spiritual. She is also hated by the Berber faction of the Arabs because she doesn’t quite fit the traditional role of woman not being seen or heard in Arab society. But the Sultan in his wisdom surrounds himself with advisers of all sects from ultra-conservative to liberal.
Layla is seeking “tawhid” which is enlightenment that is experienced by the union of two persons in a love matching that of Allah and God. She is assigned to work in a hospital for abandoned citizens who have a physical or mental challenge. Layla experiences the oneness of love with one of her patients, a very moving moment. She also slowly but surely falls in love with her student, Chandon, and he falls just as hard for her. They find a way to win the approval of the Sultan and Layla’s family and Chandon is appointed to an important military position on the side of the Muslims. How that evolves will make the reader gasp with delight and other feelings best left to one’s discovery while reading.
Assassination attempts, criticisms, challenges, adventure, tender and funny moments, plots and counter-plots and more abound in these pages in such an engaging way for the reader that he or she will hate for this amazing novel to end. Add to the intriguing story line multiple beautiful descriptions of Arab architecture, literature, art, music, garden arrangements, and more that give the reader a plethora of knowledge about Arab history and culture that is probably the second, and no less important, aspect of this novel that makes one want to see more than the black and white pictures provided of these places after the story.
Emeralds of the Alhambra: A Novel is an obviously meticulously researched story told with masterful skill. As well as intellectually pleasing, the reader will get to enjoy a tender romantic story that may seem contrived but is no less wonderful because of that fact. This should be a best seller and might even be a healthy addition to high school and college reading lists. For those like Chandon who are “tired to death of death,” Emeralds of the Alhambra” is a classic historical novel of best-seller status. This reader can’t wait to read the next novel in what we are told will be a series of novels. Superb writing and reading!