Because of its subject matter and setting – assassins and the exotic Middle East – reviewers often make a comparison between The Lion of Cairo and either (or both) of the blockbuster video game/media properties, Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia. In truth, it is a fair comparison. The Lion of Cairo is, of course, the tale of an Assassin who is sent to Egypt to broker peace between Alamut and the Fatimid rulers of Cairo – a task which calls for stealth, intrigue, and no small amount of bloodshed. The Sultan of Damascus and the Christian king of Jerusalem also want control of Cairo, whose Caliph is the weak-minded puppet of his vizier. Add to the mix a clandestine war between Alamut and its one-time vassal, the Assassins of Massaif in Syria led by a sinister necromancer called Ibn Sharr, and you can kind of see why Steven Pressfield (author of the phenomenal Gates of Fire, among others) called it “a cross between the Arabian Nights and a Hollywood blockbuster.”
The first Assassin’s Creed shares much of the same Arabian Nights’ vibe as Lion, with the titular assassin, Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad, exploring a number of extremely well-rendered and historically accurate cityscapes in his quest to thwart the plans of the Templars, led by Robert de Sablé, during the Third Crusade. Later entries into the franchise expand upon the story and introduce new eras and assassins. I’ve only played AC and ACII, but both were top-notch games that kept me away from my keyboard for far too many hours.
Conversely, I’ve never played Prince of Persia, Jordan Mechner’s homage to the Thief of Baghdad and similar tales. The Prince (called “Dastan” in the 2008 movie, also written by Mechner) is an agile fellow who is called upon to put his life on the line to save the world and get the girl. Among the most prominent tropes it shares with Lion is that of the Sinister Vizier – a standard in The Arabian Nights and associated literature. Friends who have played it agree that it absolutely lives up to the hype.
While the comparisons are most apt, Lion also exists as a homage to the Crusader tales of Robert E. Howard. And if you’re familiar with the latter, then you’ll need to keep an eye out for “Easter eggs” hidden in the manuscript – little nods to the Man and his work. Someday, perhaps, I’ll publish a list of them.
So, if you’re a fan of Assassin’s Creed or Prince of Persia (or both) and are looking for something along the same lines to read when you’re away from your controllers, why not give The Lion of Cairo a try?
Or click one of the links below to purchase a copy: