Scott Oden has built a reputation on historical thrillers such as Men of Bronze and Memnon, swashbuckling tales of adventure set in ancient times. In Lion of Cairo, Oden moves the action forward to Medieval Cairo as rival factions vie for power in murderous court intrigues while ambitious warlords oust with zealous Crusaders for supremacy over the Holy Land. All this occurs along with a strange cursed blade and a rather depraved necromantic villain in the mix.
Oden’s protagonist is Assad, the Emir of the Knife, a Hashashin, or an assassin as commonly known. Assad is no hired sword, he is a hitman with a cause, a deadly secret agent for the mysterious Lord of Alamut, the master of a radical sect that stands aloof from the mainstream of Islam. Assad’s mission is not simply murder, but to sway the ruler of Egypt into an alliance.
Oden recreates the Cairo of the caliphs with astonishing skill. I often felt I was gliding down the mean streets and marble palace halls of Cairo along with the beggars, pimps, thieves, spies, fanatics, harem girls, and killers that people this story.
Needless to say, a lot of blood gets spilled along the way. Though Oden acknowledges Robert E. Howard as his model, Lion of Cairo is often closer to film noir. Assad is less a Conan than a homicidal George Smiley, a very patient man who strikes only when ready. The feel of Lion is often closer to a serie noir than a Sword & Sorcery tale. The prevailing mood is paranoia as treachery and deceit are the order of the day.
When it comes down to it, the battles are furious and the heads fall with astonishing speed. Yet there is clearly room for a sequel. I am looking forward to it.