Diego Lafuente’s personal blog

October 21, 2012


Vladimir Bartol. Salvat Editores, S.A., 1994. ISBN: 84-345-9042-5. Spanish. It is an excellent book that tells the story of Alamut and the rise of the Assassins sect to power. Alamut is a fortress built in the Elburz mountain range, south of the Caspian Sea in northern Iran. In it, the feared and famous fedayeen live and train, ascetic warriors who excel in training, capable of any feat and of unquestionable loyalty. Of course, they do not fear death and live under a strict code of rules.

Life inside the citadel tells the story of Hasan ibn Sabbah (حسنى صباح), also known as "The Old Man of the Mountain," the absolute leader of the Ismaili sect of the Nizari who shows his methods for turning simple humans into completely superhuman beings dedicated to the Ismaili cause. Only the best of the best will have access to paradise and thus witness the sacred gardens and pleasures hidden there. Hasan, who is a descendant of Muhammad, has the key. Those who prove their worth will spend a night there and return as the chosen ones. The chosen ones became part of an elite group, and their motto, which is hidden behind their Islamic façade, is "Nothing is true, everything is permitted."

[The masses] Fear uncertainty, so they prefer a well-served lie to any knowledge. – Hasan ibn Sabbah

These fedayeen, inspired by Hasan, became the famous hashshashin of Arabic, "hashish drinkers," the historical and etymological culprits of the famous term: assassins. Their methods were feared throughout the Sunni empire and in the West. The unconditional loyalty made any army pale in comparison, always seeing them as a difficult enemy to defeat. Their soldiers were capable of killing themselves at the slightest order from their leader, without hesitation and with joy. In the best samurai style.

This historical novel is also a plea against all totalitarian and extremist regimes, so much so that its popularity served as inspiration for the video game Assassin's Creed, which is fully inspired by this book, although, of course, with less cruelty.

Without a doubt, this book will make you feel like one of the aspiring assassins, or like a slave in a harem, or even like Hasan himself.