The Shining City by Joan Fallon is a beautifully told story set in tenth-century Spain which focuses on a city in southern Spain that flourished for a brief time only: Madinat al Zahra.
Built by the caliph, it becomes a rival to the capital, Cordoba. The book covers many aspects of the times: history, culture, religion and day-to-day life. Giving great attention to detail, Fallon depicts court etiquette with the same confidence as minor details, such as bakery and food preparation. I knew comparatively little about Spain under Muslim rule and found myself easily and entertainingly educated.
The characters are well chosen and developed, likeable and driven by their dreams and ambitions. This is a story of the little man seeking his fortune with insights into the rules of Muslim life, life at court, slavery, loyalty, betrayal, forbidden love and human tragedy.
The book is very well written, perfectly paced and atmospheric. It feels authentic, has a good story and a fascinating topic.