Alamut - Vladimir Bartol
Most of the promotional material for this historical novel has centered on claiming it as some sort of key to modern Islamic extremism, even calling it a "training manual" for al-Qaeda! No way—these thousand-year-old events are about as relevant to the current century as the 11th-century Investiture Controversy is to understanding the relationship between the Catholic Church and modern European governments. Rather, like in many historical novels, the depiction of that time period serves as a case study and framework for more general ideas. Morality, religious belief, and the limits of freedom and manipulation all get examined here, but these are things that humans are bound to debate over and over, and different times shed different light on them.

I will say that the book didn't start very promising. I don't think I would have gotten past the first three chapters if I hadn't been determined to finish and review it. I would have really missed something if I had stopped at that point, though. Sure, the blatant sexism of the plotline that follows the women in the story doesn't get better; but partway through we are introduced to Hasan Ibn Sabbah himself, the leader of Alamut, and the more the book focuses on him, the more interesting it gets. He is a profoundly ambiguous figure, definitely immoral but also a deep thinker, and worth listening to for the lingering, troubling ideas he raises.