09 February 2011
Review: By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the author* From Goodreads: Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands. But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him. Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life. I've always been pretty much terrified of the Spanish Inquisition (anyone a Poe fan?) and have steered clear of literature written about it. I just couldn't take the gore that was usually associated with it. I'm SO glad to break that pattern with this book. I was asked to read and review by the author. I don't know how he happened to stumble across this blog, but I'm glad he did. I'd never heard of this book before, so I'd never have had a chance to pick it up otherwise. Here's the thing. You go into a Spanish Inquisition novel thinking that you know what's coming. After all, we all know about the Spanish Inquisition, right? Wrong. We know bits and pieces. This book has been meticulously researched for accuracy, and while things have been manipulated to fit the plot, it works. This story has been beautifully woven with intrigue, hints of romance, terror, exile, and all the good stuff. There were times that I'd be reading something and wonder why it had been included. A couple chapters later, I'd have a huge AHA moment because that seemingly small moment had a major impact on something coming up. Now that's a good literary device. The book was very character-driven to me. The characters were well thought out and really appealed to me. I hated some of them and I loved some of them, all because of their personalities and how they came out of the book. Brilliant. (I think I hated one that I was supposed to like, but I just couldn't like him!) I couldn't help but will the characters to go somewhere else or say something differently just so they could escape the clutches of the big bad wolf. Of course, they didn't listen to me, but that's okay. :) The inner struggles they went through were pretty much epic. You seriously could almost see the emotions crossing their faces as they faced decisions. Sometimes I just wanted to shout, "Confess, already!" so that they'd escape the fate awaiting them. But of course they didn't. They stayed true to themselves and I loved that. I love it when a character doesn't take the easy road because it makes them all the more real to me. The only thing that kind of threw me was that I had a bit of a hard time following the passage of time. At times it seemed like only a couple of months had passed, but then they were talking about years. But then again, that might be deliberate, because I imagine that the people living the horrors of the S.I. stopped tracking the passage of time too. Overall, I really liked this book. I think fans of historical fiction in general and the S.I. specifically will enjoy it a lot, so go pick it up! Really, I think you should all read this. It gets a 'Drool Worth' rating from me.