The Ring of Flames

Written by Joan Fallon
Review by Ann Chamberlin

Al-Andalus/Córdoba between the years of 1008 and the fall of the city to Sulayman ibn al-Hakim in 1013 AD (no nod given to the Islamic time period of After the Hijra) is the setting of this novel, book three of a series. The story focuses on the family of three brothers—Ahmad ibn Makoud, a falconer, Rafiq, a soldier, and Qasim, a doctor—as the glory that was Muslim Spain with its learning, medical skill and tolerance comes to an end in a chaos of civil war. Those of us who find ourselves in similar dissolving times would love books that help us understand what happened then, and historical novels are the perfect vehicle to filter events through characters’ emotional reactions.

Unfortunately, I did not find this book answered my need. A lack of focus did not serve to illustrate the confusion, only to intensify it beyond the reader’s caring. A simplifying of characters’ goals in the midst of chaos would help. Focus of everything: Focus of character, with strong point of view. Focus of setting with telling, visceral details that put us in place and time, told in “real time” and not shown by chats about it afterward. Focus of plot with layered anticipation and thwarted goals. Focus of theme. None of these basic tricks of the trade were used, so I can recommend this book only to someone hoping to learn to do it better.