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Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Joan Fallon on THE EYE OF THE FALCON
This week, we're pleased to again welcome author JOAN FALLONwith her latest release, THE EYE OF THE FALCON,(Book #2, Al-Andalus series). One lucky visitor will get a free copy of The Eye of the Falcon. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.
The Eye of the Falcon is the second novel in a series about Muslim Spain, set in the Andalusian city of Cordoba. By the end of the 10th century al-Andalus was a rich and peaceful country, but when the Omayyad caliph died and left an eleven-year-old son as his heir, things began to change. The eventual disintegration of that powerful dynasty had begun.
The young caliph was imprisoned in his beautiful palace, isolated and cut off from the Royal Court, while his ruthless regent and his ambitious mother battled over who should rule. The Eye of the Falcon is a novel of intrigue and murder set at the end of Muslim Spain's Golden Age, rich with the historical details of an exotic way of life, long disappeared.
**Q&A with Joan Fallon**
The Eye of the Falcon is listed as the second novel in a series about Muslim Spain. Which of your books was the first book in the series?
The first of the al-Andalus series was The Shining City, a novel about the ruined city of Madinat al Zahra.
Did you always intend the book to be part of a series? If not, what changed your mind?
I never really intended to write a series of books; I thought that The Shining City could stand very well on its own as a novel about life in Spain at that time. However, when I began researching what little information there was about 10th century Spain, I realised that there was more than one story there. Al-Rahman III’s reign had been a time of peace and prosperity, which could have continued for a hundred years or more, except for the greed of one man, al-Mansur. His lust for power turned him from a humble civil servant into the ruler of al-Andalus and brought about the eventual disintegration of the Omayyad dynasty.
A number of events coincided to give al-Mansur his opportunity. The caliph Abd al-Rahman III, who had brought peace to a warring kingdom of princedoms and united them into a caliphate, died after ruling for forty years. His son, al-Hikam, did not survive him for very long and the throne passed to the hands of his grandson, al-Hisham II, a boy of eleven. And herein lay another story. How was a child going to rule such a wealthy country, especially as it was surrounded by enemies?
Who is the main character in your novel?
At first I was going to make the boy-caliph the main character, but the fact that he was so isolated made it difficult for him to interact with the other characters in the story. So I made his mother, Subh, the main character because she moves between her son and al-Mansur, who is not only the boy’s Regent but also her lover. So Subh is constantly torn between her passion for al-Mansur and her loyalty to her son.
Subh was originally a slave who was sold into the harem of al-Hikam II. The only problem was that al-Hikam was homosexual - not an unusual occurrence among the elite at that time - and it seemed that he was never going to produce an heir. With the encouragement of his mother, Subh set out to seduce him by dressing up as a boy. The ruse worked and eventually she gave him two sons. In doing so, she became rich and powerful.
Are all the characters in the novel real people?
Not all of them, but the main ones were real people. The caliphs existed, as did al-Mansur, General Ghálib and others in the government. Subh was a real woman but there was little information available about her life before she entered the harem, so that part is pure fiction. Al-Jundi and his family are fictitious characters that started life in the first book, The Shining City. As is frequently the case with history, what information there is about people living in the past relates to the rich and powerful. Servants, slaves and artisans are hardly ever mentioned by name. If Subh had not given birth to the Caliph’s sons, we would never have heard of her either. Consequently, all the supporting characters, soldiers, servants, slaves, falconers etc. are fictitious.
How much of the story is true and how much is fiction?
There is a saying that truth is often stranger than fiction and, in this case, I think it is very true. That the most powerful and richest ruler in the Western world could be isolated and deprived of his birthright because of his age seems unbelievable, yet it happened. That a concubine was able to dress as a boy in order to seduce the homosexual caliph, also seems very far-fetched, but it happened. Of course, the rest of the story is fiction - it is after all a novel. The episodes with the falcons could easily be true, because falcons were an important status symbol, but there is nothing recorded. Al-Mansur was a ruthless man and many deaths are attributed to his lust for power, but a lot of it is speculation. He is however, recorded as having burnt thousands of the city’s books - a loss that al-Andalus never recovered from.
Were there any particular difficulties in writing a historical novel where you know what really happened to one of the main characters?
Yes, I felt sorry for Hisham. I would have liked the young caliph’s life to have been happier and for him to have had the opportunity to rule when he came of age, but that would have taken the story too far away from actual events.
Are you planning to write another book in the series?
I would like to make the series a trilogy but so far have not decided whether to look at the very beginning of the 10th century, when the country was overrun with rebels or to move to the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the eleventh, when al-Hisham is killed and al-Mansur’s family take control. Either way there is plenty of material for another exciting novel.