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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
Paperback, 320 pages
Other Press
May 18, 2010
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Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Received from publisher for review
“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”
This book was like no other book I have ever read. First of all is the subject matter. Other books that I have read have mentioned in passing the Spanish Inquisition that was led by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. I knew that it was about ridding those who were not Christians from their country – but that was about the extent of what I knew. I also have always seen these stories from the viewpoint of a member of royalty. This novel took a very different look at this event. The story is told mostly from the viewpoints of Judith Migdal, a Jewish woman whose life is being affected by the Inquisition, and Luis de Santángel, a converso who is the chancellor for King Ferdinand. This story is told from the viewpoints of those who are being directly affected by the Inquisition, versus everything I have read where the story has been told by those leading the Inquisition. It is definitely a very different look at the world. I think by seeing this event from both sides now, I have a much better understanding of just how awful it was. I really loved how this was regular people struggling to make it in the world. I also very interesting to see both the Christian and Jewish perspective on the Inquisition. Very well researched!

One character that really surprised me, and I enjoyed these interludes featuring him, was Cristobal Colon – or Christopher Columbus! I had never really thought of how he might fit into the world, except in the context of his voyage – it definitely added another level to this book. I also liked the interesting explanation of Mad Juana.

I would have originally given this book 3 ½ stars – up until the middle of the book. It was a little slow at the beginning – but it really took off after that and I connected with the characters. Be prepared with a tissue for the ending!

You can read a guest post by the author about his research methods or visit his website for additional information about the book. I also have giveaway for 2 copies of the book on the guest post page.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Find Mitchell James Kaplan: Website | Facebook



Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I have not read much this year in way of royal type historical fiction but each time I read about this book I find myself wanting to see what it is about. Your review has most definitely added to that curiosity. I should just be done with, and read the book. I am thinking that I will like this read.

  2. Ibeeeg - I think that you will enjoy this book - it was one of my favorite reads this year.


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