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 GeneralTomás deTorquemada 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.
Book Review: ★★★★★★
WOW! This is a book that I have had on my radar for a few months now — but I haven’t been able to catch up with it in the library yet. So when the author contacted me, and offered a review copy — I jumped at the chance. I am so glad I did! I have once again found a new book to add to my favorites list, and I loved the journey! Set in the 1400′s, in the midst of the countries that would eventually make up Spain, this historical fiction covers some very pivotal times in history. With appearances from historical characters such as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Christopher Columbus, The Spanish, as well as the lesser known but much more dramatic “New” Inquisition, as well as the main character — Luis de Santángel. This book presents not only some amazing history as a backdrop for this historical fiction account, but it also tells the story of a man who’s life was not only powerfully influential, but also heartbreaking in the extreme.
One thing that I really liked about this book was the presentation of the difficulties of life under the time and influence of The Inquisition. And this applied for all people, not just those of Jewish descent. However, the Jewish people certainly suffered more than most — as this story demonstrates. But the powerful presentation of the difficulties of living in a time and place where your every word, action, relationship, and interaction with others could be twisted and misconstrued into a nightmare was haunting. Mr. Kaplan does an amazing job of creating for the reader the feelings of fear, oppression, and constant vigilance that had to go into life at this period of time. So powerful was this sense of feeling that I simply couldn’t put the book down.
And Mr. Kaplan’s presentation of the life of Luis de Santángel is nothing short of excellence. This was a man that I knew very little about, prior to my exposure to this book. But his story is not only powerfully moving, but it is haunting as well. The life that Santángel lived, and the things that he had to suffer throughout his life are the foundations of nightmares. And yet Mr. Kaplan has brought Santángel to life in these pages. As a reader I found myself hoping that this poor man would get a break somewhere! But he is a great example of how misunderstanding, and bigotry can, when carried too far, destroy lives — even while creating great men and women in the path of heartbreak.
What I didn’t like about the book? Well — I hesitate to put that down, because as far as the book itself goes there was nothing I didn’t like. But as far as the history goes — this book angered me to no end. I was horrified at the abuse of power, and the damage that this abuse, when allowed to continue unchecked can cause in the lives of men and women. Combine that with the heartbreaking results of simple cultural intolerance, worse yet in the name of God and religion, and I was horrified at the lives that were destroyed for nothing. But even this is a demonstration of how good this book is, and the success that Mr. Kaplan has achieved in writing this one. To be able to get a reader to move beyond passive reading, and into emotional responses is a demonstration of how influential books can be, when presented through a truly talented author.
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