17 April 2011

Guest Author: Lisa J. Yarde

This week, we're welcoming longtime contributor Lisa J. Yarde, as she celebrates the release of her latest novel, Sultana, set in thirteenth century Spain. It's available now. Here's the blurb:

In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the realm of Granada is in crisis. The union of Fatima, granddaughter of the Sultan of Granada, with the Sultan’s nephew Faraj has fractured the nation. A bitter civil war escalates and endangers both Fatima and Faraj’s lives.

All her life, Fatima has sheltered in lavish palaces where danger has never intruded, until now. A precocious child and the unwitting pawn of her family, she soon learns how her marriage may determine her future and the fate of Granada. Her husband Faraj has his own qualms about their union. At a young age, he witnessed the deaths of his parents and discovered how affluence and power offers little protection against indomitable enemies. Guilt and fears plague him. Determined to carve his own destiny, Faraj struggles to regain his lost inheritance and avenge his murdered family.

Throughout the rugged frontiers of southern Spain, the burgeoning Christian kingdoms in the north and the desert states of North Africa, Fatima and Faraj survive ruthless murderers and intrigues. They unite against common enemies bent on destroying the last Moorish dynasty. While Fatima and Faraj establish a powerful bond, the atmosphere of deceit creates opportunities for mistrust and tests their love.

Do you have a favorite character in the story?

Of course, the heroine Fatima is my favorite character. She was a remarkable woman. While researching the details of her life, I realized how brave, resourceful and smart she must have been to survive the intrigues surrounding her. I wanted to write about a heroine whom readers could admire for her strength as well as her inexhaustible devotion to her family. A close second favorite is Fatima’s servant, Niranjan. He is her eunuch and most loyal aide, always at her side to offer her physical protection. He is willing to undertake any task on her behalf. More importantly, he serves as Fatima’s conscience through the book.

Have you traveled to any of the locations in Sultana?

Yes, I am truly fortunate that the primary setting of the story, the Alhambra Palace in the southern Spanish city of Granada is open of visitors. It is astonishing to me that one of the finest examples of Islamic art and architecture is still standing after several centuries of warfare, natural disasters and the attempts of Napoleon’s troops to blow it up. I visited the Alhambra Palace in November 2001 and spent considerable time exploring the palaces and surrounding area. While it does not looks exactly as my characters would have experienced it, the Alhambra Palace still reflects much of the Moorish era in Spain.

What is it about the Moorish period in Spain that readers might find fascinating?

When I took a religious studies class in the first year of college, I was amazed to learn that there had been an Islamic presence in Europe. For seven hundred years, a diverse people had ruled what would become one of the most influential Catholic nations. The thirteenth century in Spain was a brutal and turbulent era, as most of the medieval period, but it was also the flowering of an age of artistic, intellectual and architectural brilliance in Spain. The Moorish period helped bring Spain out of the Dark Ages. When Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon conquered Granada, which was the last bastion of Spanish Islam in the country at the end of seven centuries, they held so much admiration for Moorish culture that they often took to dressing in Moorish clothing. They preserved the Alhambra Palace, rather than destroying it, and Isabella’s final resting place lies in Granada. I think that speaks volumes.

Many of the characters in the novel are historical figures. How difficult was it to blend fiction with historical fact?

The medieval period is a fascinating era, but part of the difficulty lies in obtaining good sources. For instance, Fatima may have been as young as eight years old or as old as twelve when she married – the sources do not agree. Also, the final end of the antagonists the couple faces is uncertain. That is the difficult part of attempting to tell this story. It is nearly impossible to be 100% certain of the events that occurred. I have found the best method for handling this problem is to review a variety of sources. If most point to a particular event happening on a certain date, even with a few contradictions, I go with the most popular date.

Another challenge is to develop characters and personalities for figures who have been long dead, while being true to their documented personalities. The Nasrid dynasty is not popular like the Tudors, or even their enemies, the Trastamara dynasty from which Isabella of Castile hailed. There are scant but decent sources available on Fatima’s family. With Sultana, I relied on some but often, later events helped me gain an understanding of my characters’ personalities. For instance, I have portrayed Fatima’s elder brother Muhammad in Sultana as a cruel child because of his documented actions in later years. I wanted to show the seeds for that brutality developing in his early years.

What are you currently working on writing?

The sequel of Sultana, which is called Sultana’s Legacy, is due this fall. I am steadily applying edits. It is a much darker story than Sultana is, terribly bloody and intense. Fifteen years after the events of Sultana, the peace and prosperity of Fatima and Faraj's life has been shattered. Betrayal and uncertainty surrounds them. War threatens the fragile existence of the kingdom of Granada. With a madman bent on seizing the throne, Fatima must survive intricate plots and protect those whom she loves the most. Her enemies are determined to destroy the enduring legacy of the Sultans of Granada forever. She risks everything for her beliefs, even the potential loss of her greatest ally and enduring love, her husband Faraj. Even tragic defeats and her greatest achievement cannot prepare her the most shocking deception - betrayal by a beloved son.

Thank you for hosting me at Unusual Historicals.

Please leave a comment to win one of two copies of Sultana, in paperback or on Kindle - your choice!

Lisa J. Yarde is a historical fiction author. Her novels ON FALCON'S WINGS, an epic medieval novel chronicling the starstruck romance between Norman and Saxon lovers, and SULTANA, set during a turbulent period of thirteenth century Spain, are available now.