13 December 2015

Author Interview and Book Giveaway: Lisa J. Yarde on SULTANA: THE POMEGRANATE TREE

This week, we're pleased to welcome author and Unusual Historicals contributor Lisa J. Yarde again with her latest novel, SULTANA: THE POMEGRANATE TREE (Sultana Book #5). This next installment of a six-part series is set in fifteenth-century Spain as the last Muslim dynasty attempts to hold on to Granada's Alhambra Palace while the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand consolidate power and prepare for a final campaign against the Moors. The author will offer a free digital copy of Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree to a lucky blog visitor in his or her preferred format; this giveaway is open internationally.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Here's the blurb.

In fifteenth-century Moorish Spain, Aisha, the descendant of the Sultans of Granada endures a life imperiled by dynastic warfare, loss, and cruel fate. 

Enemies descend on the kingdom from all sides and threaten to tear it apart. To preserve a fragile peace, Aisha suffers a sham marriage to a cruel tyrant, forever divided from the love that once ruled her heart. 

Years later, when a trusted confidante becomes a powerful rival, Aisha must fight for the future of the next generation or witness the destruction of her family and the last vestiges of Moorish rule in Spain.

**Q&A with Lisa J. Yarde**

You've written about the same family, the Nasrid Dynasty of Granada, in four previous books of your Moorish Spain series. What makes this novel different?

The heroine Aisha. She faces struggles that none of my prior heroines ever dealt with in the earlier books. All of them enjoyed close relationships with their fathers that influenced the course of their lives and eventual marriages, but Aisha starts out very different. She is the last of three daughters born to the tenth Sultan of Granada named Muhammad al-Aysar. Because her father lacks sons, he chooses an unlikely ally and successor in his cousin Muhammad al-Sagir, who marries Aisha's eldest sister. The union doesn't last long, and soon Aisha has the possibility to wed Muhammad al-Sagir herself. Unfortunately, their happiness isn't mean to be. As often happened during the history of the Nasrids, another cousin Saad invades the kingdom and Aisha is forced to marry his son Abu'l-Hasan Ali, a man she despises, who ruined all her hopes including those for the dynasty. Years later, under Abu'l-Hasan Ali's reign, Aisha forms a close bond with a captive named Isabel de Solis. She appears to be Aisha's devoted slave, but life in the harem changes their relationship dramatically. In the novel, Aisha explores the depths of her resilience. As a result, she learns more about the limits of pride, the importance of friendships, and the effect of choices within the harem outside its walls than any of my previous heroines.

What challenges, if any, did you find in writing about this period of Spanish history?

I knew long before writing this series that I'd encounter several challenges. The largest one has always been and remains to date, even with this latest book: getting at the right resources. The 15th-century Nasrid dynasty is better documented than any of the earlier periods I've explored in the series, but bias, plain misinformation, and legends still make the history murky. Hence my love and hate relationship with Washington Irving.

You hate Washington Irving? Why?

While his Tales of the Alhambra influenced 19th-century interest in Granada's Alhambra Palace and the lives of those who inhabited the place, Irving's popularization of existing legends made it harder to get at the truth. For instance, within the palace, there is this room called the Hall of Abencerrages. It was the southernmost gallery of the harem in Aisha's time.  Supposedly, members of the clan called Abencerraje were killed there because their chieftain Ahmet was having an affair with Soraya, the second wife of Abu'l-Hasan Ali. The water stains on the basin in the room are purported evidence of the blood that flowed because of this massacre. But the legend is all wrong; the wrong Sultan, the wrong reason for the murders. The deaths actually occurred during Saad's reign, not Abu'l-Hasan Ali because Saad wanted to rid himself of the clan's influence. Throughout the history of the dynasty, other clans helped keep the Sultans of Granada in power. Readers of my first novel in the series might recall the Ashqilula family and how the Moorish rulers of Granada dealt with them. So while I love Irving for having spurred awareness of Granada's Alhambra, and later conservation efforts, for a writer trying to get at the truth, the popularity of his version of events doesn't help the research.

Why might readers find your heroine compelling?

For the reasons described above, but also, the time in which she lived. Aisha has often been portrayed in various ways; most often as a jealous wife motivated by Abu'l-Hasan Ali's affections for a younger bride. Watchers of the Spanish TV series Isabel were treated to a perspective on her life in season two, as the show featured Isabel of Castile's conquest of Moorish Granada. One of the most hilarious scenes I found was of Aisha discovering her husband's paramour, later second wife, would go to his bed. In a jealous fit, Aisha runs out of the harem screaming into the night. My knowledge makes the scene ridiculous; first because the real Aisha grew up in a harem and would have had every expectation that her eventual husband would sleep with other women. Second, the particular husband she had played a role in the end of her relationship with Muhammad al-Sagir. I found it hard to believe the real Aisha would have mourned her husband's interest in another woman. 

What are you working on now in the series and what can we expect in the future? Will you ever write about Moorish Spain again?

I'm working on the last book of the series, Sultana: The White Mountains. It's a bittersweet moment, in which I chronicle the last ten years of Moorish rule in Spain, as experienced by Aisha's eldest son and her daughter-in-law Moraima. I hope to have the first draft completed by mid-2016. Then I'm possibly collaborating with a friend on historical fantasy, which is slightly different for me while heavily researching my next series about Dracula's family. The current series, its heroes and heroines, and even the villains have inhabited my mind for over twenty years and I'm so pleased by how readers have reacted to them. Actually, I'm mostly glad to have them out of my head and on the page.

Available for pre-orders now at:

About the Author

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, On Falcon’s Wings, featuring a star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois. Lisa has also written four novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, SultanaSultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two SistersSultana: The Bride Priceand Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of the last Muslim dynasty to rule in Europe. Her short story, The Legend Rises, chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd's valiant fight against twelfth-century English invaders and is available now.

Born in Barbados, Lisa currently lives in New York City. She is also an avid blogger and moderates at Unusual Historicals. Her personal blog is The Brooklyn ScribblerLearn more about Lisa and her writing at the website www.lisajyarde.com. Follow her on Twitter or become a Facebook fan. For information on upcoming releases and freebies from Lisa, join her mailing list at http://eepurl.com/un8on.