Monday, August 9, 2010

By Fire By Water Review (by Mitch Kaplan)

By Fire, By Water
This historical novel is set in the pivotal time period of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World, the New Inquisition, conquest of Granada, and expulsion of Jews from Spain. 

Here's the scoop - Isabella and Ferdinand are the ruling sovereigns of Spain.  There is general mistrust in the country regarding the coverted Jews to Christianity.  The protagonist, Luis de Santangel, is an actual man who consorted with Christopher Columbus, held an office in the court of Isabella and Ferdinand, and was Jewish by blood, although not by belief, necessarily.  

Mistrust is a far too weak of a word for the feelings of converts by Christians.  Paranoia is much more accurate.  Tomas de Torquemada had the fantastic idea to start an Inquisition.  Except his idea of an inquisition was not to merely inquire of one's beliefs, but to torture, in the most brutal of ways, the accused until s/he confessed and named names. Anybody could accuse another.  All were fair game.  

The novel includes a scenario where the protagonist and a few others casually study Judaism.  One of the men is arrested, tortured, and dies before his "trial."  Meanwhile, there is a transcript of his confessed sins.  The best way to deal with this transcript is to steal it and kill the inquisitor, Pedro de Arbues.  The group of men hire another to murder to inquisitor.

True to history, Arbues is murdered in a cathedral.  The Inquisition plants the belief that the murderers were conversos and the Inquisition becomes something from a Freddie Krueger movie.  Santangel is a suspect and his family is obliterated.  Okay, that was spoiler without an alert.  Sorry about that.  But that is historically correct.  

Meanwhile, Christopher Columbus is attempting to obtain financing and ships to explore his hypothesis that India can be reached by sailing west.  Not only that, but Columbus holds in his possession ancient Jewish writings.  One of which being apocryphal and quite dangerous. Columbus continues to use the ties he has with Luis to gain acceptance and funding for his exploration.

Of course, an Inquisition tends to be quite expensive.  The king and queen are not prepared to finance such lunacy as sailing "around" the world.  Okay, that last part I exaggerated.  It was becoming quite fashionable to accept that the earth was not flat.  Isabella and Ferdinand, being a bit on the paranoid side, decided it was time to stake their claim on Granada and drive out all the Jews.

This is where the fictitious Judith enters the story.  Judith represents the Jewish people in Granada.  She is Jewish but also Spanish.  Through her experiences, the reader will understand how the Crown treated the Jews at this time.  

I can not believe this is Mitch Kaplan's first novel.  The time period is so intricate yet he weaves each of the conflicts together through the protagonist.  Without being superfluous, he describes the beauty of Spain, along with the architecture, in a visceral manner.  The story moves along succinctly yet includes all the necessary information to understand the conflict and history.  Kaplan is a screenwriter and, I swear, I heard the orchestra crescendo at the end of certain scenes.  The history is incredibly well researched.  The novel is intriguing yet does not detract from history, which is interesting by itself.  And extremely gross.  Torture on "the rack" and death by burning described in detail.  

Reviewer's editorial on irony:  This period of history is not one I knew well, by any means.  I found it fascinating (with the help of a great book) and realized the irony of what was not included in this book because it was not relevant to this story.

Henry VIII of England had six wives.  His first wife could not produce a viable son so he wanted to divorce her.  Of course, Catholicism frowned on that so Henry decided to start his own Christian-like church where he would be the pope equivalent.  So he put his first wife away with their daughter, Mary so that he could marry the saucy, and eventually headless, Anne Boleyn.  Plus four more.  Anne is the mother of Queen Elizabeth who remained true to the Church of England.  Her sister, from Henry's first marriage, was Mary.  Bloody Mary who was maniacal about Catholicism.  

Mary's mother just happened to be Catherine of Aragon, youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella.

I swear I just saw a guy in a hockey mask go across the screen.

This book was provided by author in exchange for an honest review.  I can't help that I thought the book was excellent.


CountessLaurie said...

And all I could think was "no one expects the spanish inquisition"...

jewelknits said...

Loved your review and loved the "I can't help that I thought the book was excellent."! LOL! This is definitely a 5-star book for me ... my review will be up this week as well. Can't wait to see another book by this author!

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries