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Lion's Blood

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In the year 1863, a primitive village is raided, the men killed, and the women and children captured. The survivors find themselves chained in the dark, filthy hold of a ship crossing the ocean to the New World, where they are sold into slavery. The powerful master of a vast Southern plantation purchases the 11-year-old Irish lad Aidan O'Dere. Yes, you read that right--in this alternate America, the South was colonized by black Africans, and the North by Vikings, who sell abducted Celts and Franks to the Southerners. Through his brilliant inversion of our history, author Steven Barnes examines the complex evils of slavery in a new light with Lion's Blood, an intelligent and exciting novel of freedom and bondage, battle and intrigue, sex and love, set in an America threatened by total war as Aztecs, Zulus, Moors, and whites clash.

A Hugo Award and Cable Ace Award nominee, Steven Barnes has written 15 novels and 15 teleplays. --Cynthia Ward

There is a sequel to this book called Zulu Heart

480 pages, Hardcover

First published February 13, 2002

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About the author

Steven Barnes

118 books420 followers
Steven Barnes (born March 1, 1952, Los Angeles, California) is an African American science fiction writer, lecturer, creative consultant, and human performance technician. He has written several episodes of The Outer Limits and Baywatch, as well as the Stargate SG-1 episode "Brief Candle" and the Andromeda episode "The Sum of its Parts". Barnes' first published piece of fiction, the novelette The Locusts (1979), written with Larry Niven, and was a Hugo Award nominee.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 99 reviews
Profile Image for Tananarive Due.
Author 100 books3,093 followers
May 25, 2010
This is by my wonderful husband, Steven Barnes. A must-read alternate history!
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,162 reviews1,262 followers
March 7, 2021
I read through page 282 (almost halfway), but it seems fitting to throw out a bad book with the end of 2020. Out with the old and lousy, in with the new and by-god-I-hope-it’s-better!

This book has a really interesting premise, which is that Africans colonized the Americas and captured Europeans for their slaves. It’s a race-reversed slave novel, and reversing demographics in stories is an interesting exercise that brings readers face-to-face with our own prejudices. So I do appreciate the book for that, and the idea of what an African and largely Muslim New World might have been like in the 1860s and 70s is an interesting one. (Sadly the racial shake-up doesn’t extend to the indigenous folk of the Aztec empire, who are wildly stereotypical.) Some readers who disliked the book have criticized it for the particular changes the author made to history in order to produce his world, but that doesn’t bother me since the point of the book isn’t “the world might have turned out this way with a few key changes!” but rather “what would a slave novel look like with the races reversed?” and the alternate history is merely a means to that end.

However, you can really, really tell that this was written by a science fiction writer. First, because although thought and research clearly went into the worldbuilding, and the storytelling flow works, characters and their emotions are clunky and two-dimensional. Second, the particular glorification of violence as a noble art and a solution to problems (complete with upper-class boys spending years being trained in hand-to-hand combat despite the fact that they have guns) belongs to speculative rather than realistic fiction.

Third, and what ultimately made me stop, the female characters are awful, existing solely to admire, entice, or be mourned by the men. Some gender essentialism at the beginning pinged my radar, but I kept going. It got worse when the author tried to disguise the fact that Kai’s sister exists solely to provide admiration and embody foolish femininity by telling us she’s a chess prodigy, but every scene in which she plays or discusses chess has her shown up by her father or brothers. Then there’s all the fond reminiscing about how important Kai’s dead mother was in the life of his father, even though his father can’t seem to recall any traits his wife had other than physical beauty. Then there’s the “fun” “everyman” bonding scene meant to show us Aidan and Kai have grown up, involving them having sex with a pair of slave girls, and the highly sexualized description of said girls. (I had the feeling this scene was supposed to make us relate to the boys—yeah, not so much for this reader.) Periodically the author reminds us that the slaves don’t exactly have free choice, but then he keeps right on describing in detail how nubile and seductive they are. Practically every damn woman in the book is nubile and seductive and spends most of her time telling her man in barely coded language how much she longs for his dick. Also, they all have some “mysterious knowledge” that makes them unknowable, ethereal creatures. I about laughed when Kai decides a new woman is “unlike any woman he had ever known” because she’s graceful, looks seductively at him and is good at horseback riding, when she’s a carbon copy of his last crush, who likewise had no personality other than “sexy.”

I hit my limit with a scene in which our hero Aidan follows a woman his friend has disappointed to the barn, corners her, forcibly kisses her as she tries to get away and pulls her down into the straw. This is totally okay, Barnes assures us: “She gasped at his strength, but knew that her protests were a lie, knew that she was not resisting with her whole being.” Sex quickly follows. Sorry—I draw the line at male authors appropriating a female character’s POV to tell us that sexual assault is totally fine because no doesn't really mean no.

Good riddance.
Profile Image for John.
160 reviews5 followers
January 20, 2009
Lion's Blood is perhaps the best book about slavery and race in America I have read, told in an alternate world where Europe is the failed continent and Africa is dominant. That Steven's Barnes is an African American makes the scenes of the "middle passage" all the more powerful.
In the very brief overview of the slave trade I was taught as school, one fact was always mentioned. African slaves were captured and sold to whites by Africans. Somehow this made the slave trade not just the European's fault, it spread the blame around. Well, in this alternate world, European (Irish) slaves as sold to blacks by Europeans (Vikings). This twist helps illuminate what should have been clear: if it weren't for the buyers, the slave trade would not exist.
This story concerns two boys who grow into men together. Aiden, the Irish slave, and Kai, the plantation owners son. Can friendship exist between owner and slave? Can honor?
Aiden sees slavery destroy his family, and becomes involved in the politics surrounding Kai's family. Kai is Muslim, and Aiden a Christian. Kai learns there are truths not told in his schools, and finds a mentor in a visiting Sufi scholar.
The book is told through many points of view, not just the two boys, but it is really their tale. I couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Annette.
752 reviews17 followers
August 7, 2009
A well written and occasionally thought provoking alternate history. In "Lion's Blood," Alexander the Great did not die in his 30's, but rather went on to found a dynasty passed down to his two African sons. Egypt remained the center of civilization, and it was Africans who colonized the new world, bringing Islam as the dominant religion - and Europeans as slaves. The protagonist, Aidan, is kidnapped by slavers from his home in Ireland when not quite a teenager, and eventually becomes companion to the lonely youngest son of an important land owner in the American South. Their difficult and uneasy friendship forms the center of the story.
The race reversal trope has certainly been done before: Heinlein's Farnam's Freehold is the first example that springs to mind, and in fact Planet of the Apes could be considered another example. "Lion's Blood" is considerably better than "Freehold" in my opinion: the author (himself African American) writes with none of Heinlein's arrogance, and produces a far more thoughtful story.
To his credit, Barnes portrays his black slave owners as absolutely no better than the white ones they replace in this alternate universe. They exercise the same cruelty to their slaves, make the same arguments about the "Black Man's Burden," and even the best of them are casually thoughtless and almost clueless about the depths of their chattel's resentment and hatred. The native residents of the new world also get off no better than they did in our history.
Perhaps some members of both races would be angered by their portrayal in "Lion's Blood," but to me the message is simply one about human nature, regardless of skin tone, and the inevitable repercussions of enslaving one another without regard for shared humanity.
Profile Image for Michelle.
98 reviews3 followers
December 27, 2012
What an incredible novel. What an incredible premise! This book takes place in 1863 North America -- only it is not the USA. In the world 0f Lion's Blood, the two African nations of Egypt and Abyssinia (Ethiopia) are the world powers, and Islam is the religion of the cultured and powerful. Europe is a dark, tribal place used as a source of slaves for New World plantations, and Christianity is a misguided religion of the backwards and simple. White slavers never killed Native Americans, the Spanish never slaughtered and conquered, and the Aztecs are a powerful political force on the North American continent.

The story is just fascinating, as we follow the young Irish boy Aidan when his village is slaughtered and he and his mother and sister are sold into slavery. We experience his harrowing journey to the unknown New World in the bowels of the slave ship, and the incredible cruelty of his captors. We get to experience a world where white people are "less than," considered ignorant children, and bought and sold as property. We see inside the minds of the oppressed and the oppressors.

I have an anthropology background (academic) and I love seeing into other cultures. This book shows me a culture that is familiar and absolutely alien, both at the same time. I am recommending this book to everyone, especially white people. It showed me my own hidden and not-so-hidden racism and changed how I see the people around me, black and white. Amazing.
Profile Image for Andrew.
800 reviews
September 8, 2016
I just couldn’t put this book down. A North America colonized by Africans not Europeans! A society where Africans are the masters and Europeans the slaves and where Africa is the developed world! A well written and powerful tale of slavery set in an alternative history. A great read.
44 reviews10 followers
August 21, 2021
I read this in college and it made me so violently angry I actually threw it. It's a cool idea and I really wanted to like it, but history just does not bend that way. I don't mean that it's not conceivable that the civilizations of the Islamic world could have been the colonial powers of the Americas, or that they could have taken slaves; lots of cultures throughout history have. I became increasingly frustrated as the book went on that the author wants an alternate universe where everything happened pretty much the same except with the races reversed, and he just does not care how much hand-waving he has to do to set that up. He doesn't consider, for instance, how going back to a time before the birth of Christ and mucking around with the timelines really should change some things. In this world, there basically was no Roman Empire because Macedonia never fell, which means no one ever destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem so there was no Jewish diaspora, and, critically, no Romans in Judea to crucify Jesus, no Constantine to adopt Christianity as the official religion, no Pax Romana to spread it around, but somehow Islam exists basically unchanged and that just did not track for me. If there were no remnants of the Holy Roman Empire to hold them back, why didn't the Moors convert and settle Europe? How did the Mongol invasions play out with totally different geopolitical borders, and what happened to all the Germanic tribes they displaced? WTF happened with Constantinople? There shouldn't even BE a Constantinople.

Anyway, the TL:DR for this is that if you are any kind of history buff you may not be able to enjoy this. I can't even tell you if the story is any good or the characters are likable, because I feel like I spent the entire time in a frothing THE CHEESE TRIANGLES DON'T GO THAT WAY rage. It would be better to just start the story off with everything in place and never mention how they got that way, but there's just enough detail sprinkled throughout to be really distracting because you can tell how much has been changed and there is no reason it would have turned out to be the mirror opposite of history except that the author wants it that way (for instance, there is no given in-world reason for slavers to go all the way to the British Isles to capture isolated villages of bog dwellers, who are not likely to be any more adapted to life on a Georgia plantation than their counterparts in Jamestown who died if a New World mosquito gave them a funny look, except that the author wants white slaves and black masters, like he just worked backwards from that and didn't care if any of it made sense). The whole world felt artificial, which made the characters and their story feel flat. Every time I read something that made me think, well why are they still doing this if this, this, and this didn't happen or happened really differently or still somehow happened even though everything around them should have been totally changed, it would kick me right out of the story. This was close to twenty years ago and I STILL remember it very clearly. I finished it, somehow, because I had wanted to like it so much I had paid full price for the hardcover and because I was still young enough to fight through books; if I picked it up today, I would never make it.
Profile Image for Phyllis | Mocha Drop.
361 reviews2 followers
October 26, 2009
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 world’s superpowers? All of these possibilities are realities in Steven Barnes’ 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 father's murder and undergoes (along with his mother and younger sister) a horrendous “middle passage” crossing onto the auction blocks on the shores of Bilanistan. The 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 that—dreams, 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 “master’s” 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.
Profile Image for Titilayo.
220 reviews23 followers
August 6, 2013
This book was everything!

Admit it. You have often wondered what course world history would have taken if Africans had Enslaved Europeans while they explored the New World. Would they treat them more humanely than chattel? Would the Americas have a different development? Would emancipation accompany a civil war? What religions would take hold across the Atlantic? Steven Barnes takes out some of the guest work. It takes a full 459 pages to go from the Shores of Eerie to manumission in the New World; and, it is an enjoyable journey.

In the beginning we are in the land of ninth century Ireland. There is paganism and Christianity. Life for the blood haired blue eyed fisherman son Aidan O'dere was idyllic. His parents Mahon and Dierdre are madly in love. He and his twin sister Nessa are happy enjoying the Spring Festival with their friends. All is well until giant invaders,"two legged shadows" in a dragon fire vomiting ship-the Northmen attack the Crannog! They blitz, burn, and destroy life as Aidan knows it. His father is killed along with many of the villagers. Everyone that does not die trying to defend or escape is kidnapped. They are "shackeled at the ankles with stout metal bands tight enough to numb limbs" and chained together for the voyage into the belly of the beast.

The Middle Passage...Pestilence...Death...Slave Auctions...The New World

North America is populated by the Aztec, Moorish, Zulu, and Abyssinian Empires. There are a few sprinklings of other African ethnic groups and the white slaves. The lingua franca of New Bilalistan (America) is Arabic. It unites people under the dominate religion of Islam. The Zulu are led by the fierce warrior king Shaka and his brother Cetshwayo. The Muslims have several leaders one of the most esteemed Senator is the Wakil, "the second most powerful man in all of New Djibouti, responsible only to the governor, who in turn answered only to the Caliph himself" Abu Ali. He is a smart, progressive, kind, and gentle politician. His son Kai is about the same age as the enslaved Aidan. Kai also has a younger sister Elenya and elder brother Ali. His brother Ali is bethrowed to the Empress of Abyssnia's niece Lamiya. The Wakil's brother Malik is wealthy man and shrewd warrior with no children. He trains his nephews in the art of combat while the half Yoruba (secretly Sufi) scholar Babatunde mentors/tutors all the youth. Their world is ideal as well.

So young Kai and Aidan become companions. They come of age together. We find out how life is in New Bilalistan. What it is to be a white man in America under African rule. There appears to be some agitation on the frontier with the Aztecas, but our friends the Zulus are always looking for a fight. Things in the Senate are becoming hostile. Some of the other Muslims are uncomfortable with the Wakils style of slavery. He always them to retain their pagan names and religions. Treats them fairly and encourages them to find happiness in their divinely assigned roles. The Wakil hopes to betroth his son Kai to Nnandi the daughter of Chaka Zulu. This means young Kai needs some additional manhood training. He is given a gift-a courtesan names Sophia. She is Mediterranean well groomed and carefully trained Concubine. Her skills in the bedroom are the only thing that keeps her from being a regular house slave. She hopes to win her freedom by seducing Kai but their ideal Moorish world is about to shatter like a snow globe thrown from a third story window.

Relationships, Allegiances, and Reality shifts....
Profile Image for Jacqie.
1,655 reviews80 followers
July 23, 2015
This is a book that, had I read it 10 years ago, I would have found enthralling. It's alternate history- what would have happened if Alexander the Great had lived, set his capitol in Alexandria, and the epicenter of world power had remained African? What if Islam became the dominant religion and grew even further across the world?

We are introduced to this world in an alternate 19th century. Aidan, a young Irish boy, is captured as a slave, along with his mother and sister. Ireland is in the middle of nowhere and Aidan sees civilization for the first time when he is sold in a slave market in Spain. He's then shipped off to one of the American colonies.

The inversion you see here is a young white slave being sent through the Middle Passage to become a slave to black masters in the colonies. The voyage is just as horrific as these voyages were, with high mortality rates. I stopped after the first part of the book. Why? Because although the idea behind the book was interesting, I didn't get any new insights out of it. Slavery became far more race-based with the founding of the American colonies, and before that time period white slavery was pretty common, along with black slavery and intra-race slavery. Using slaves was an easy way for getting cheap labor among many societies, and it's actually been quite recent historically that it has been seen as immoral. In many parts of the world, slavery still exists- it's just been pushed into even darker places. Read about girls drugged into sexual slavery in Europe and India. Read about men forced to work aboard fishing boats, never allowed to leave, never given compensation, just enough to keep them alive. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So, I've read enough books that feature a young boy being taken from his backwoods village and learning about this strange world that the author has invented to feel that I wasn't really getting anything new. From the bit I read, I didn't gain much insight into Muslim society. I think the author's intent was to get the white reader to view slavery differently by seeing through the eyes of a white person with black masters, instead of the way that the American colonies worked in our world. It seemed to exoticize the Muslim slave traders instead of making them human (bad humans, but human). Maybe that's just my reading.

It's certainly a worthy effort- preconceived notions and prejudice must be battled, and this is as good a way as any to do it. The book just fell too much into a pattern I've read a lot of and didn't stand out enough or attach me enough to the characters to keep me reading. Ten years ago, before I'd worked at a bookstore and was more limited in my reading, the book would have meant more to me.
Profile Image for The Book Gawdess.
204 reviews10 followers
October 14, 2019
Imagine a world in which Egypt was the superpower of the world. Where, instead of white masters and black slaves, it was the other way around. In Lion’s Blood, Steven Barnes writes about such a world.

This book is based on a white slave, Aidan, and his journey throughout life. I was first introduced to him as a young boy fishing with his father in the beautiful river, the Lady, in Eire, where him and his family lived. In the middle of the night, Viking warriors with guns raided the village, killing most of the men. The few men that survived, along with women and children were sold into slavery. They had to endure a boat ride across the ocean crammed into the hold of a ship which was only meant to hold one third of them. Upon arrival at the New World of Bilalistan, they are then sold to Wakil Abu Ali, the owner of the Dar Kush estate, who view them as nothing more than property. Sounds a tad familiar, doesn’t it? Aidan eventually makes friends with the estate owner’s son, Kai. However, the estate is not as peaceful as it seems and soon there is war among the different races in the country. Can Aidan and Kai’s friendship survive?

I tried to find a way to describe how I felt about this book but I felt like no words could adequately express how much I enjoyed this book. Strangely enough, I did not enjoy it because the blacks were in charge. I enjoyed it because this author showed me that even when the situation was reversed, I found myself on the side of the oppressed, no matter the color they were. Black or white, no man deserves to be a slave.

I found myself becoming quite emotionally involved in this book. I have read enough about the history of slavery to know the depths of depravity slave masters were willing to stoop to. It felt more painful to read about it happening to characters I cared about. Whippings and rapes were described in graphic detail. Runaway slaves were viciously hunted down and slaughtered. It was horrific.

The descriptions in this book were magnificent. The emerald grove in the slaves’ garden sounded beautiful. The author was also quite skilled at describing characters. He was able to capture the Aztec warriors’ haughtiness perfectly using words alone.

This book also highlighted what a lot of people do not know. The village was raided and destroyed by men of Aidan’s own race. One of the greatest tragedies in African slavery was that many times it was fellow Africans who did the capturing and selling of weaker tribes. Although, one can argue that they were encouraged to do this by the slave masters and the promise of riches and weapons.

Not everyone may find the descriptions of their race to be appropriate. Some may get insulted. Some may find it fitting. But this is a book that should be read by whites and blacks alike. This book included a lot of detailed descriptions of violence, sexual and otherwise. There was not much profanities. This is an adult book and should not be read by younger readers.
Profile Image for Allan Dyen-Shapiro.
Author 12 books7 followers
April 14, 2017
A good alternative history, for me, rests on the verisimilitude of the world building; a good novel, for me, more often than not, rests on the depth of the characters. This book did both well. Sure, in flipping white for black, Irish slave for African Muslim slaveholder, some of the choices for plot points would be obvious. But some weren't. There was an especially violent scene that interjected elements of horror that I found surprising, but what was slavery if not horror? (Note, I avoided a spoiler there.)

As the existence of a sequel implies more to come, I will withhold judgement on the final fate of the two heroes in the book. The fighting scenes were masterful; Googling the author shows extensive knowledge of martial arts, so this shouldn't be surprising. I won't speculate about where the experience in writing the unusual "court" sex scenes came from. :)

The mannerisms of "court" and those of the slave quarters took a lot of detailed work that this reader greatly appreciated. The conflict between Zulu and Muslim was explored well. The Aztecs and Northmen largely were left for future novels to flesh out.

The author left me feeling sympathy for a slaveholder--a major feat. The nuances of slave culture were fascinating, and many of these characters were very also well developed.

Strongly recommended.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books348 followers
February 5, 2019
251216: takes a few pages to get going. long. world-building. premise of althistory always engages, the world depicted, peoples, societies, religions, all gently integrated and portrayed in simple modern psychological realism, that is, like any other usual american literature. easy read even though distracted for a bit. compared in thought this with Robinson's Years of Rice and Salt: https: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2..., which is evenly ambitious but africa is rarely mentioned, as here most of the world is not mentioned, as here first nations north americans/aztecs are only caught in our usual european/western conception and have not much changed since pre-contact, have no history, do not change, and maybe only exist as villainous savages... otherwise, i suppose this compares/follows the usual southern us narratives of slavery, interesting inversion, rounded characters, this is the first of at least two. maybe more interesting ideas than writing...
8 reviews1 follower
March 26, 2019
It takes some time, but is well worth it

This book took me by surprise from the very beginning. I didn’t know what to expect, but not this!! I am beyond pleased and will be reading the sequel as this book has seemed to touch on all of the emotions that a good book does.
Profile Image for Lynn.
Author 51 books85 followers
November 16, 2017

This alternate history rings true because of the obvious solid research done by the author. I didn’t doubt it even before reading the notes at the end. Not predictable, totally could have happened with a twists of events in our history. The last third of the book are especially riveting.
Profile Image for Tony.
1,428 reviews72 followers
September 24, 2019
The premise is far and away the most interesting thing about this book -- basically, it's a racial inversion of the colonization of America and rise of slavery. Instead of European whites, it's Islamic Africans who conquer the new world and establish plantations with white slaves. The story is primarily told though an Irish boy taken by Viking slavers and sold in the markets of New Djibouti (instead of New Orleans), and the younger son of the ruler of a vast plantation who bought him. Naturally, the two grow up in parallel and become friends, romantic rivals, comrades, political enemies, etc... 

Like most alternate histories, it's kind of clunky and unsubtle on the whole. There's an attempt to tease out some nuances in the spiritual affiliations of various characters (the mainstream Sunni vs. mystical Sufi vs. non-Islamic), but that never felt particularly necessary to the story. There are also some problematic aspects to the depiction of the Zulus (especially Shaka Zulu) that was surprised to see. There are some interesting elements -- such as the conflict with the still-strong Aztec Empire, and a well-done climactic battle sequence -- but on the whole it's a little tepid. While the reverse-race/religion casting is clever, it doesn't elicit any greater insights or truths about the horrific history of slavery in our own world. There's a sequel, but neither the characters nor the world were interesting enough for me to want to spend more time with.
Profile Image for Lauren.
61 reviews
January 5, 2013
I enjoyed both "Lion's Blood" and "Zulu Heart." They reminded me of "Gone with the Wind" in that the story is full of vivid, soapy details, to the point of tedium at times, but the plot, setting, and characters are consistent and true to themselves. Sometimes I rolled my eyes at the thesaurus-enriched vocabulary, but at heart, Barnes' duo is a fascinating, worthwhile, chewy read. This is classified as science fiction, but it reads like historical fiction. The only twist is that in Barnes' world, Africa (the "cradle of civilization") remained in power (I guess we can say the baby grew up). Thus, Africans enslaved Europeans rather than the other way around. This twist at first made me uncomfortably uncomfortable (what?! you mean "everyone's a little bit racist" like the song says?); and in all honesty, Barnes does dwell a bit morbidly on the gory details of the slave industry. But as I continued with the story, I grew used to his elevated vocabulary and graphic details. In the end, what makes this duo worth bothering with is less literary and more spiritual. At heart, Barnes uses slavery, war, wealth, and religion to show human nature at its best and at its worst. By the end, my "white guilt" felt less dirty. Not less real--this is fiction, not history--but less pointed. The humanity at the heart wins, and it is a rollicking good read.
Profile Image for Monique.
104 reviews18 followers
November 19, 2008
I don't know what to say about this book. There were just so many good things about it. I don't have one negative to say. I

The character were well done. I cared about what happened to all the main characters, even if I did not like their role in the story. I wanted to know what happened to them. The two main characters Aiden (the white slave) and Kai (the black master) were very believable for the time period that the story took place in. Barnes developed the characters (all of them) nicely and seemed to put a lot of thought in what role they played in the story.

I also like how Barnes included references to historical figures in the story (Shaka Zulu, Mozart, Da Vinic) and what their role would have been in his alternative history where Islam dominates.

Another plus is that Barnes did not sugar coat the possibility of Islamic slavery. He did not make it seem that slavery in an Islamic America would have been better and more humane. In fact Lion's Blood illustrates that it would have been the same but religious orientation different.

At the end I could not put this book down and basically read the last 200 or so pages in one sitting. I even shed a tear at the end. It's a great story of friendship and slavery. I am going to put the sequel on my wish list.
Profile Image for Isis.
831 reviews44 followers
May 6, 2015
I really liked the premise of this book: an alternate New World in which "Bilalistan" was discovered and settled by mostly-Muslim black men, who ran their plantations with white slaves captured from northern Europe, England, and Ireland. But what I was hoping for was a story involving the native cultures of the New World in this new context - my hopes were raised by the map at the front showing "The Nations" covering most of the west of the continent, with "Azteca" to the south, and a bit of the west coast carved out for the Chinese - and what I got was essentially a standard nineteenth-century Deep South slavery narrative, only racebent.

It's not quite what you'd get if you did a search and replace to turn the masters black and the slaves white - the ethnic and cultural aspects are flipped, too, which makes for more complexity - but everything feels analogous to our history, and so once you get past the novelty of black masters whipping their white slaves and disparaging their animal ways and obvious lack of intelligence, it's no more interesting than a mainstream historical adventure/romance/family epic.

It ends without resolving some plot points, clearly leaving room for sequels. Of which there is one. I may or may not read it.
Profile Image for Elisa Berry.
41 reviews2 followers
December 18, 2011
I found this book heartbreaking, brilliant, devastating. True American literature. Barnes' style is character driven making it highly readable, his world is well researched and instead of simply writing a new reality his tale consistently evokes our own world, which caused me to ponder the unfortunate resultants of power and our legacy of terror in creating this New World. There is also much to gain for our own time; the conquerors of America (Bilalistan here) being North African Muslims. With martial power comes cultural monopoly and so we are able to witness a flourishing of Islamic mores and sophistications that in our world seem always to be variegated by the globalization of American pop culture.
So it is a smart read, an important text but more importantly--it is a fabulous story that I savored. I have just started the sequel, Zulu Heart, and am trying to break it up with non-fiction to make it last a little longer.
Profile Image for Pilouetta.
53 reviews5 followers
August 4, 2009
i was fascinated with barnes' premise - what if north africa defeated the romans and became the conquering empire of europe and the new world, becoming plantation lords and slave owners? crafting a story of african/arab superiority - the new world is muslim, the language is arabic and irish & german infidels are bonded in chattel slavery. within this world is a story of a patriarch, his family and their customs. barnes has excellently researched ancient spirituality (sufism), combat/warfare (against the aztec nations), african history (zulus, dahomey, abyssinians) and pieced together an fiction of an alternate america. one begins to parallel african tribal cultures with colonial america's protestants, catholics, huguenots & jews. he takes the racisms and sterotypes whites levied on african slaves and turns tables on skin color, language and culture. a fascinating read!
Profile Image for Misha.
49 reviews
August 5, 2016
Lion's Blood has been a top favourite since 2002. I look forward to reading it for a third or sixth time and coming away with something new. It's a beautiful, but sometimes painful, story that's wonderfully written. It's the only book I've ever ordered in advance, and it was more than worth the 6 month wait.

Lion's Blood is a fascinating alternate history in which Islamic Africa is in power and Caucasians, mainly the Irish, are enslaved. After being sold, Aidan becomes unlikely friends with Kai, the plantation owner’s youngest son.

In brief, it’s about life, beliefs, choices, love, and freedom. Barnes has a knack for uncovering and sharing truths. Recently reading Lion's Blood and its sequel, Zulu Heart, again allowed me to focus more on their intricacies and the cultural philosophies of Sufism and Islam.

Highly recommended to everyone.
Profile Image for Dianna.
45 reviews
February 16, 2019
Beautiful prose but marred by two things: a very male view of life and the inclusion of cliques. Examples: the women are fought over or used as chattel or bargaining agents in marriages but as a reader I never felt a connection to any of the women, their characters were simply not sufficiently developed. The cliques included the white slaves joking that if the black slave owners could be white for just one night, they would not want to be black again. That is a very old joke told in reverse in the u.s.
Those two things tarnished a book with some very lovely descriptions of what the main male character said, felt and did.
A interesting approach to moralizing that no matter what race dominates, it will be cruel, rationalizing and include good and bad people.
Profile Image for Mosker.
41 reviews1 follower
December 18, 2007
If anyone at Antioch wonders why my paperwork was almost late and I seemed occaisionally unprepared, it was because after every day's required activities, I just to read more.

Great book--the kind that has a landmine every page but Barnes pulled it off.

Tananarive spoke of their courtship and marriage, as well as his career, and In'shalla (the original title until 9/11 changed the marketing), he'll have some serious success.
Profile Image for Dawn Livingston.
753 reviews39 followers
December 6, 2016
I give up. I read some of the reviews so I knew the book was generally well regarded and I tried to read it but... just can't get into it. Once you get past the idea that the world has been flipped around and blacks enslaved whites and rule most of what never became the US it lost it's appeal. The idea of a kid having to fight back from adversity is not new. It just didn't offer anything more than an interesting concept.
48 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2009
This is why I generally don't read sci-fi. Even though it's an interesting concept for a novel, the writing is unsatisfying. If I cared more, I'd type in a passage from this, then a few from James Joyce, Salman Rushdie, Flannery O'Connor... with so much good writing in the world, why read this stuff?

PS: They need a "I stopped reading this" tag. :-)
Profile Image for Terah Edun.
Author 65 books905 followers
September 13, 2012
I loved this book and this series without reservations. It was the first, and perhaps best, example that I've seen of alternative history fiction which has Africa and Asia taking the front seat in a American setting. That said - past Zulu Heart it feels like Mr. Barnes abandoned this series with no explanation. It's very upsetting because the books are so good!
Profile Image for Lady Makaveli.
130 reviews30 followers
April 4, 2017
A great book... What if slavery had been turned around? Would whites still be saying to get over it? I doubt it. This book shows the moral under these circumstances and the difference between European slave 'masters' and what easily could have been Black men. Interesting to think about. And before anyone says blacks should get over it, they def. should read this book.
Profile Image for LaWana.
43 reviews2 followers
February 24, 2009
Alternative history of what if Africans had been the ones to colonize the US and had enslaved Europeans. Sometimes, to get a really good look at something you have to turn it inside out and that is exactly what Steven Barnes did in the brilliant piece of fiction.
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