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Lion's Blood

Lion's Blood is a 2002 alternate history novel by Steven Barnes. The book won the 2003 Endeavour Award. It is followed by the sequel Zulu Heart.

Lion's Blood
Lion's Blood (Steven Barnes novel - cover art).jpg
AuthorSteven Barnes
CountryUnited States
GenreAlternate History
PublisherWarner Aspect
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages461 (hardcover)
813/.54 21
LC ClassPS3552.A6954 L56 2002
Followed byZulu Heart 

The novel presents an alternate world where an Islamic Africa is the center of technological progress and learning while Europe remains largely tribal and backward. Throughout the novel, both the Gregorian calendar and the Islamic Hijri calendar are used.

The title draws its name from Abu Ali’s sacred knife, which is called Lion’s Blood (or "Nasab Asad" in Arabic), which was carried into battle by members of Abu Ali’s family for ten generations. It is made of “razor-sharp steel and bone…Its hilt was crafted of black rhino horn, bolted to the tang with six heavy steel rivets. Legend held that the steel blade was smelted from a fallen meteorite by Benin smiths, its white-hot length quenched in the living blood of a lion.”[1]



The story begins with Aidan O'Dere, a White European child growing up in a primitive 19th century Ireland with his pagan father, Christian mother, and his twin sister. Their village is attacked by Vikings and Aidan’s father is killed in the battle, while Aidan and the rest of his family are taken as slaves. They are later sold to black slave merchants in Andalus and taken to Bilalistan (southeastern North America) by the Middle Passage. Many die along the way and Aidan’s mother suffers a miscarriage. During the voyage, Aidan swears to his sister that if they are separated, he will find her.

There at a slave auction Aidan’s sister is separated from them and sold off as a maidservant, while Aidan and his mother are sold to a Wakil named Abu Ali Jallaleddin ibn Rashid al Kushi, owner of a plantation called Dar Kush. Dar Kush is known for its lenient treatment of the white slaves, going as far as allowing them to keep their native religion, culture, and language.

The Wakil has three children: Ali, the oldest son; Elenya, the youngest child and only daughter; and the middle child and younger son Kai, an awkward, shy boy who feels that he will never live up to his father's expectations. One day Kai and Aidan meet and become unlikely friends. Aidan aids Kai in a prank that gets him whipped, but Kai saves him from most of the punishment and selects him as his footboy/servant. Despite their difference in status, the boys develop a strong friendship.

Kai and Aidan grow up together and remain close, until a mulatto half-Andalusian Moor, half-Greek slave girl that was a gift to Kai comes between them. The break happens when the girl falls in love with Aidan, leading to a fight between the two. Though Kai has better fighting skills achieved via formal training, Aiden is far stronger, with greater punching power and endurance, achieved from several years of grueling labor. As a result, Aidan defeats Kai. Though angry and humiliated, Kai does not punish them further, and allows the two to be together.

Both boys go through several changes as they become adults. Kai converts to Sufism, begins to have feelings for his brother’s betrothed, finds himself about to be in an arranged marriage with a Zulu princess, and begins to question the practice of slavery. Aidan, finally with something worth fighting for, begins to chafe at the bonds of his slavery, which drives a wedge further between the two friends. After his (also enslaved) wife and newborn son are transferred away to the plantation of Kai's uncle, Aidan becomes involved in a slave revolt among the slaves of Dar Kush and neighboring plantations. Using the revolt as cover, Aidan and other slaves attempt to flee, but are captured and Aidan's infant son almost dies. Aidan, however, is again spared punishment by Kai, who is mourning the death of his father in the revolt.

Later Bilalistan finds itself at war with the Aztecs over a treasured Bilalian landmark, Mosque Al'Amu (the Shrine of the Fathers), which stands at the border between Bilalistan and Aztec territory. Both Kai and Aidan join the army heading to meet them. During the last stand at the Shrine of the Fathers, Kai takes leadership of the armies after the Zulus abandon the battle due to the suspicious deaths of their leader, Shaka Zulu, and Kai's elder brother Ali. Promising freedom to all of the slaves who came with the army, the Bilalians manage a victory by destroying the Shrine of the Fathers with most of the surviving Aztec forces inside it.

Kai, now a war hero, keeps his promise to free all of the slaves who fought along with their families. On returning home he finds that his uncle has taken Aidan’s wife as an unwilling lover and refuses to free her, forcing Kai into a duel with him which results in the death of Kai's uncle. Kai, now the only surviving male in his family, takes his place as the Wakil of Dar Kush, while Aidan and his family leave to start a new life as freedmen and freedwomen.


Aidan O’Dere - Aidan is an Irish slave in New Djibouti. He grew up in the O’Dere crannog in Eire, was captured by Viking raiders when he was a boy, and was sold into slavery. Within his first year as slave at the estate of Abu Ali he befriends Kai and becomes his footboy.

Nessa O’Dere – Nessa is Aidan’s twin sister, separated from Aidan and their mother upon reaching the slave auction block in Bilalistan.

Deirdre O’Dere – Deirdre is Aidan and Nessa’s mother. Unlike her husband who is a Druid, Deirdre is a Christian. She suffers a miscarriage during the middle passage, but convinces the slave auctioneers to keep Aidan with her by demonstrating her ability to write.

Mahon O’Dere – Mahon is Aidan and Nessa’s father, a fisherman, and the Chieftain of the O’Dere crannog. He is killed by Viking raiders when they come to capture slaves.

Abu Ali Jallaleddin ibn Rashid al Kushi – Abu Ali is a Wakil in New Djibouti, immensely wealthy, and second only to the governor in power. Abu Ali is of Ethiopian descent, from the Aderi tribe of Harar. He owns a massive plantation, Dar Kush, as well as over 200 slaves.

Ali ibn Jallaleddin ibn Rashid – Ali is the eldest son of Abu Ali, expected to inherit his father’s plantation and senate seat, and is trained as a warrior. He is betrothed to Lamiya Mesgana, the niece of the Empress, in a political marriage.

Kai ibn Jallaleddin ibn Rashid – Kai is the second son of Abu Ali, and more interested in books than in battle. He is the same age as Aidan, and befriends him after Aidan takes the blame for a prank Kai devises, making him his footboy.

Elenya bint Jallaleddin ibn Rashid – Elenya is the youngest of Abu Ali’s three children, and a satranj prodigy from a young age (a game similar to chess).

Malik ibn Rashid al Kushi – Malik is Abu Ali’s younger brother, and a powerful warrior who earned himself the nickname of “Al Nasab” (The Lion).

Shaka kaSenzangakhona (Shaka Zulu) – Shaka is the chief of the Zulu, an army colonel and fierce warrior, and the most powerful non-Muslim in New Djibouti.


World of Lion's BloodEdit

The story is set in an alternate history world where the Islamic African nations are the dominant world powers, with colonies in Europe and the New World just like the European powers in our timeline, commonly referred to by the characters as Bilalistan instead of North America. The dominant nations are Egypt which is still ruled by the Pharaohs and Abyssinia which is controlled by a monarch known as the Immortal Empress.

Due to the destruction of Rome by Carthage and Egypt in 200 BC, Europe remained largely tribal while Africa advanced technologically and culturally with steamboats, rifles and airships or "flying boats" by the late 19th century. The dominant Africans consider Europeans to be inferior and treat them as a source of slave labour which is supplied to them by Viking raiders similar to how our timeline's European White colonists viewed Black Africans as inferior and used them as slaves supplied by African slave traders. Southern Africa is controlled by the Zulus while the Vikings control much of Northern Europe and all of Scandinavia.

The Middle East is presumably Islamic-dominated, with references to Egypt being at war with Persia, though a Jewish state known as Judea is also mentioned to have been established by the Prophet Muhammad in 623 AD as part of a mutual assistance pact between Islam and the Jews. The Gupta control much of India while China is ruled by Emperors and apparently has a colony in the New World's western coast. Much of modern-day Mexico is ruled by the Aztecs while Native Americans compete with both Aztecs and the African colonists.

On a map of Bilalistan shown in the book, Bilalistan is divided into four provinces which include: New Alexandria (named after the Egyptian city of Alexandria), New Djibouti (named after the African country of Djibouti), Azania (named after the real life historical location of the same name) and Wichita (the last of which shares its name with the real-life city of Wichita, Kansas). Most of the story takes place in Dar Kush in New Djibouti, around where the real world state of Louisiana lies. It is also mentioned that the African colonist settlers have driven the Native Americans out of their territories just as the European powers had done to the native populations from the 19th century. To the south lies the Aztec nation of Azteca which often fights with Bilalistan. Vikings maintain a colony in the New World known as Vinland to the north of Bilalistan and there is a Chinese colony in California. White runaway slaves often join Native American tribes, or manage to make their way to Vinland to find work as paid laborers.

Christianity is also mentioned in the novel, though it failed to become a dominant world religion, with the majority of its followers being Europeans. Without the influence of Rome and the Catholic Church, Christianity is much more divided between traditional and Gnostic thought over whether Christ was divine or merely a man. The Gospel of Mary is also an important part of the Christian beliefs.


The point of divergence of the world of Lion's Blood is that following Alexander the Great's conquest of much of the known world, Alexander made himself the Pharaoh of Egypt following a vision of Pharaoh-hood after he had lost his leg. After the death of his first wife, he married a Kush princess named Mesgana, who bore him twin sons. When his sons came of age, he set one as ruler of Alexandria with the other reigning over Abyssinia. Alexander eventually adopted the title of Pharaoh Haaibre Setepenamen which literally translates as "Jubilant is the heart of Re, Chosen of Amen". As in our timeline, Alexander's capital was at Alexandria which became the capital of Egypt. Over the centuries, history was rewritten to portray Alexander as an African to suit the perceptions of the dominant Africans.

In 200 BC, the combined forces of Egypt, Carthage and Abyssinia destroyed the Roman Republic, removing the last European power and paving the way for African dominance. For a thousand years the descendants of Alexander ruled much of the known world with Egypt ruling an empire stretching from Eastern Europe to India. Egypt and Abyssinia also created a major trade route along the Nile and immense networks of canals. By 420, steamboats had been invented and were used to trade with other kingdoms in Africa. Eventually, most of sub-Saharan Africa was under joint Egyptian and Abyssianian rule.

With the advent of Islam, Arabic became the dominant language of that region. In 623, Muhammad approved of a mutual assistance pact with the Jewish people which would lead to the establishment of the Jewish state of Judea. With Muhammad's death in 632, his followers fought among themselves as they did in our timeline. However, this was stopped by the intervention of Bilal. He rescued Muhammad's daughter Fatimah and fled to Abyssinia, where they were protected.

Fatima continued Muhammad's teachings and her form of Islam became known as Fatimite Islam which eventually swept through much of North Africa, resulting in a unified Islamic coalition against Egypt's royal house. In the end, Alexandria was defeated through the use of a disease carried by black barges an analogue to the Black Plague. This disease eventually swept through Egypt and its territories in the Middle East and southern Europe. With Egypt defeated the Fatimite Caliphate was established but both nations would remain separate.

Bilal would live long enough to see the fall of Alexandria and was thus revered by the masses as the last of the Prophet's companions. He saw that politics and religion had intertwined in the Old World and that the resulting chaos of that union were beyond repair. It was on his deathbed that Bilal received a vision from the angel Gabriel who told him of the existence of a continent beyond the oceans which would be the promised land, and that the masses should colonize it for their own.

By 1000, African Muslim explorers had crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the New World through the use of huge ocean-going steamboats. As the early European explorers had done in our timeline, the Africans traded with the natives for gold and exotic fruits and founded cities there. The explorers would move westward and would come into conflict with the native populations there. When the last of these explorers had perished far west in Texas, their burial site became the location of the Shrine of the Fathers. By 1100, the Fatimites were trading with the Aztec/Toltec empires though Bilalistan would only be officially colonised in 1700.


Like the United States of America during the 19th century, Bilalistan's society was ethnically diverse, including Egyptians, Abyssinians, Yoruba, Zulus, Arabs, Moors, Jews, Europeans, and Native Americans. Egyptians, Abyssinians, Arabs and Zulus form most of the upper class as plantation slave owners and hold other high-paying job occupations. West Africans (such as Yoruba and Igbo) and North African Moors predominate the middle and working classes, and are usually employed as instructors, merchants and slave overseers. Herding and ranching are dominated by the Maasai. The lowest jobs are taken by White European slaves. Certain African groups, such as the Danakil, are not slaves, but are looked down upon by other Africans, due to their involvement in "unclean" occupations (example: training thoths).

Bilalistan was originally a theocracy when first settled, though it had become a theocratic republic by 1863. The Bilalian ruling hierarchy consists of the Ulema, the religious body which is led by an Ayatollah, and the Senate, the political body which is ruled by a Caliph. Both organizations compete for control though all power lies in the hands of the Caliph, who is appointed by the Pharaoh of Egypt. The Senate is divided into a House of Lords and House of Commons.

Below the Caliph are four Governors who governs each of the four provinces of Bilalistan. These Governors are also assigned or appoint Wakils which rule fiefdoms within the provinces and are apparently part of the aristocracy. Arranged marriages are practised between the Wakils. Citizens, whether male or female, are allowed to vote though slaves have no citizenship and little rights. Many white European slaves are forced to convert to Islam and take Islamic names.

The Bilalian hierarchy ranges from the Caliph and Ayatollah, the Houses of Lords and Commons and the Judiciary which create both religious and common laws. For laws to be passed, they must be accepted by majorities in both Houses which hold legislative power and the Caliph and Ayatollah which have executive power over the state. Common laws can be overturned by a two-thirds majority within the Ulema while religious laws can only be overturned by the Ayatollah and the Pharaoh.


Like the Europeans of our timeline, the Muslim explorers brought exotic animals to Bilalistan, most notably the Savannah buffalos, which were imported by the Zulu in order to carry out hunts. Most dogs are considered impure due to the prevailing Islamic culture, with the possible exception of Greyhounds in New Alexandria, and Zulu Ridgebacks in the Zulu kraals. However, many forms of monkeys are kept as pets. Baboons, (or thoths, as they are known), are used to track down runaway white slaves, often with brutal consequences.

Musical connectionEdit

Heather Alexander's album Insh'Allah is based on Lion's Blood. The two were written concurrently, and the book quotes lyrics from several of the songs.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Barnes, Steven (2002). Lion's Blood. New York: Warner Books, Inc. p. 56.

External linksEdit