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Lion's Blood Book Review

Phyllis Rhodes

What if America had been colonialized by people of African descent?  What if the Mayan Empire would have flourished?  What if Europeans were enslaved by the Africans?  What if Islam was the dominant religion of the worlds superpowers?  All of these possibilities are realities in Steven Barnes's epic classic, Lion's Blood. The author took a lot of time to build this alternate reality in which African Americans of Muslim decent rule America and the enemy are the Aztecs. This artificial world which houses the growing nation of Bilalistan is all too familiar while at the same time stunningly different from our own recent past. It is a place of lyrical beauty and heartbreaking pain.

The story opens in Ireland with a young Aidan O'Dere, a child close to his clan being pulled from his village in an orchestrated slave raid. He witnesses his fathers murder and undergoes (along with his mother and younger sister) a horrendous middle passage crossing onto the auction blocks on the shores of Bilanistan. His sister is separated from them and sold off as a maidservant while Aiden and his mother are sold to a plantation-like estate deep inside the new country.He quickly realizes his dreams of returning home are just thatdreams, but he vows to return home one day with his family in tact. We can only imagine the terror being in a place where the trees, traditions, religion, sky, earth, people, clothing, language, smell, food, architecture are all different and new. The story centers around the relationship Aidan has with the masters son, Kai, as they grow into manhood. A long and very unlikely friendship begins as a result of some uncanny events. Even though Aidan is viewed by Kai as a servant, along the way their relationship develops into much more. Will Aidan find his sister? Will he escape and return to Ireland? Read to find the answer.

Steven Barnes has a wonderful gift for establishing sympathy for the European slave and empathy for the African enslavers/masters. The reader is drawn to his well-developed characters and well-described universe. I loved the poetry and the manner in which Barnes kept traditions rooted in our known reality (Celtics and their tree worship, Aztecs in human sacrifice, etc). I'd say that you'd definitely have to be in a "mood" for this rather long book. There are a lot of characters and the Islamic names are very long and at first it was hard keeping track of who was whom--especially when he was laying out the family tree and the roles, traditions, and responsibilities by birth order, etc. But I quickly became familiar with everyone's role and found it to be an enjoyable read nonetheless. The "what if" scenarios do not require much imagination because Barnes does an excellent job filling in the blanks and allowing us to glimpse into a different world. The author also laces the novel with really deep issues such as karmic justice and the age/old issues of honor, love, respect, and the universal struggle of doing the right thing even at the risk of personal suffering or loss. The reader will love, hate, admire, and cry throughout this moving novel. Lion's Blood is a MUST for any true connoisseur of the science fiction/fantasy genre.

The Nubian Circle Book Club rating for Lion's Blood is 5 out of 5 stars.  We welcome your comments and thoughts about this book review.  Please e-mail us at this address: