Lions Blood, Zulu Heart

Three thoughts on  Stevens Barnes classic

lions_blood

Lion’s Blood is a satire of race relations in this country in the latter half of the 19th century. On one hand, it is an exercise in polemics and rhetoric, but on the other, it tells an engrossing story of two boys who have a complex master-slave relationship. In many ways, it resembles an inverted Roots.
In ancient times, many Greeks, including Socrates, were attracted to Egypt, especially after a wounded Alexander claimed the throne of the Pharaoh. Alexandrian Egypt, allied with Kush, established trade routes up the Nile and into southern Africa. When Rome became a commercial and military threat, Egypt and Kush allied with Carthage and defeated Rome, which sank in obscurity. When Islam arose, Bilal, a former Abyssinian slave, saved Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, from the Prophet’s enemies, carried her to Abyssinia, and married her. Fatima become an impassioned leader, second only to the Prophet himself, leading her followers on the jihad that established Islam throughout Africa  click for more  Arthur W Jordin

This is yet another alternate history that seems rather implausible. The implausibility is not that Europe is depicted as backward and barbaric; if you look at the span of history from the discovery of agriculture to about 1500, non-Mediterranean Europe was not exactly the shining light of the world. The notion that in some time lines it remains a haven for superstition and barbarity seems plausible enough. No, my problem has to do with the postulated point of divergence between this world and ours: a decision that Alexander the Great makes in 380 BCE. This leads to some major changes, not least of which is that Rome decisively loses the Punic Wars, resulting in a much diminished Rome. And yet there is still an Islam2 . It is even a recognizable Islam: there are Sufis. Surely all those developments would have been butterflied away by centuries of historical change.

Nothing in the Bilali treatment of slaves is particularly unrealistic: the depiction of slavery in this book is cribbed directly from history. If anything, it would have been plausible if Barnes had made his depiction far more horrific than he actually did. The thing to bear in mind is that no matter how outrageous Aiden finds his treatment, he is treated better than most of his fellow slaves. The majority of slave-owners are worse. Sometimes much worse

 Click for more James Nichols Reveiw

 

About ten years ago I stumbled on a little gem by the name of Zulu Heart. Being a fantasy reader and seeing practically none of it featuring a lead character of African descent, I was instantly intrigued. As it turned out, the book is more alternate history than fantasy, but it was fortunate for me that the book was placed in the wrong section.

After reading the book, I discovered that it was the follow up to a book called Lion’s Blood, so I had to go back and read them in order.

Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart are a ‘duology’ (though not officially named as such) that take place in 1850 AD in a world where power rested in the hands of Islamic Africa as opposed to Europe. Lion’s Blood begins the story of two boys, one the son of a wealthy African family, and the other, a Druidic Irish slave.Click to read more R.J. Terrell.

Just as in Lions Blood, the alternate history that is supposed to explain the current setting is unbelievable. It really doesn’t make much sense. Still, if we tossed every unbelievable alternate history series out the airlock, there would be few AH novels left to review. In this case, the current setting is convincing even if the backstory is bogus. We are quickly pulled into several concurrent, gripping plots. Will Kai’s new family arrangement work? Will his rival manage to oust him? Will Alden bring back crucial information as well as his sister? And what of Nandi? The rising enmity between the two great empires forms an ominous background to all this intrigue.

I first read this book back in 2003, when I reviewed it for the SFBC. I was primed to like Zulu Heart because I had just finished reading Turtledove’s Marching Through Peachtree, a race-flipped fantasy retelling of the American Civil War. Turtledove’s dismal book paralleled the Barnes novel in some ways—both books have whites enslaved by blacks—but I found Barnes’ take on race-flipping to be immeasurably superior to Turtledove’s. Unsubtle sometimes, but still superior.

Click for more James Nichols Reveiw

What are your thoughts ?

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