The Stone Lions is an excellent young adult novel set in Spain in the early 1400’s. Ara is a twelve-year-old Muslim girl and daughter of the Sultan. She lives with her cousin Layla in the Alhambra Palace, a place of great halls and courtyards decorated with beautiful tiles. Protective magic is woven into the symmetry of the mosaics, but the Sultans advisor is using his magic to break key symmetries and weaken the palace so the infidels/ book lovers/. Christians from the north can take over the Kingdom.
Ara and Layla discover the treachery and with the help of a Sufi mathmagician take it in hand to fix the broken symmetries and try to find solid evidence of the advisor’s treachery to submit to the Sultan.
The story is unique in that it is both highly educational and entertaining. In order to fix the magic, the girls must learn about symmetry and that is their first step towards becoming a mathmagician – I love that word and the concept of maths being magical that goes with it. Not only do we learn about this aspect of mathematics, but we also learn about the kind of life led and the values followed by these Muslim women. We learn that the harem is not a bunch of sex slaves – as Hollywood would have us believe – but the women and children’s part of the palace, where they have complete control and are safe from the men.
There is a wonderful scene where a group of Christian women and children come to visit, and though some cultural differences become apparent, it is clear that the similarities between the two groups are far greater than the differences. This is a truly excellent book to help foster religious tolerance.
The story is well-edited, so that it reads smoothly. The plot is sleek and engaging, and the pacing excellent. The characters are well-drawn and likeable – except for the creepy bad guy, of course.
I highly recommend this book for all young adults.