Spanish novelist Giner relates the adventures of Diego de Malagón, a young albéitar, or veterinarian, during the Spanish peninsula’s conflict-wracked 13th century.
Albéitar is the "noblest of professions" and is especially a healer of horses, those animals being central to medieval chivalry. Diego loved horses, especially his Arabian mare, Sabba, but he had no ambition to be an albéitar until Saracens attacked his father’s inn. Father dead and sisters captured, Diego was left to fend for himself and to seek revenge. In Toledo, Diego earned tutelage under Galib, a mudajjan—free Muslim—who suggested, "[y]our enemy is not Muslims, Diego, it is the Almohads." As he learns the albéitar’s art, Diego is sidetracked by Benazir, Galib’s beautiful Persian wife, who attempts to seduce him. Forced to flee Toledo, Diego’s adventures continue across Spain—be aware many place names are from the 1200s—ending when Alfonso VIII of Castile names him a knight albéitar for the Three Kingdoms. Along the way, Diego humbles himself while learning more about horses at a Cistercian monastery, falls in love with Mencía, a beautiful young noblewoman, befriends Marcos, petty thief and Lothario, who betrays him at a crucial juncture, faces the gallows convicted of satanic magic because he discovered the source of an epidemic, undertakes dangerous missions to free Al-Andalus from the Moors and plays a role in the Almohad caliph’s defeat at the epic Battle of the Navas de Tolosa. Other than Diego, Giner’s characters are static. His writing relies on exposition, heavily detailed—albeit little about life’s practicalities, like food—and it employs straightforward rather than literary language. Battle scenes are framed rather than detailed, but Giner’s historical references reflect intriguing research.
A bit like an exotic medieval mashup of War and Peace and Oliver Twist.