Thursday 20 January 2011

Review: By Fire, By Water - Mitchell James Kaplan

Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 320
Published: 2010

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of 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.

The blurb is good one

My thoughts:
This was such a beautifully written book, readers often say that it felt like they were there. But this one truly brought that out. There was a movie slowly playing in my head while reading this book.

Luis de Santángel is rich and powerful, but three generations back he was a Jew and being a Jew or of Jewish origin in 15th century Spain is dangerous. Converted Jews are being hunted, those still holding on to their faith suffer under taxes. The Spanish inquisition was truly cruel. It is an era I have not actually read about before and it brings danger and drama, it gives flavour to this book.

The history in this book about how he starts having these talk about the Jewish faith, then another man joins, and there things get out of control. Suffering will follow. I could go on and on about religion and so on. But I will keep it short and say that some people back then were idiots for the things they believed, I wanted to go back and shout at them. And then I would have been burnt at the stake. The things done and said in religion are the things that truly make me lose faith in mankind. Ok I will end it there before I go all philosophical.

There is also a hint of romance, he meets a silver-smith, a Jewess in Granada. But Granada is about to fall soon because Ferdinand and Isabella wants a Christian kingdom that covers the whole of Spain.

It's a story about faith, murder, persecution, and the idea about the Garden of Eden and how Christopher Columbus meant to find it.

In the end it is one of those times that I just feel that my words alone cannot bring justice to this book.

Recommendation and final thoughts:
I do love language, and hear that really shines through. He has written a book that echoes times gone by. He brings a presence to this book and I read little by little, not too much at once. This is a book to read slowly.

This is a book for all historical fictions fans, and the rest of you that appreciate a well-written book and story.

Reason for reading:
Everyone loved this book, and that sure made me curious.

I do like it.


  1. I'm glad you liked this too! It was such an intricate and moving portrayal of the period. I wanted to shout at everyone too, they were all so infuriating about their beliefs.

    Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

  2. I am so looking forward to getting this book. it sounds wonderful

  3. This sounds fantastic. Great review :)

  4. Poor thing looks like she has a headache on the cover there...

  5. A very nice review and I think I must read this one as well! The lady on the cover does look like she has a headache...or toothache...or she lost her purse and wonders what to tell her husband...:p

  6. It sounds very visual and descriptive. I love books that make me feel like I am there.

  7. I love it when an author puts me right in the scene. I can't wait to read this book!

  8. I've heard so much good about this book and I'm glad you liked it! I've never read anything focusing solely on inquisition.
    My copy is on its way and can't wait to read it.

  9. Oh man this sounds like a good book. You can yell at the people today (there are some huge idiots still running around) and you won't be burned at the stake. Plus, I'll have your back. :)

    I really need to add this one to my wishlist.

  10. Another blogger shared her copy of this with me and I'm really excited about reading it. It sounds fantastic!

  11. I'm so glad you liked this one and it was a great historical fiction because it's on my nightstand!

  12. i've heard a lot about this one too! thanks for the awesome review!

  13. Meghan
    It was so good, and I am so glad it was so good. I am worried sometimes when everyone loves a book, and I wonder if I will too

    I can't wait for your review :D

    So good, I do hope you check it out

    Lol, oh Chris you crack me up ;)

  14. Ana
    Lol, oh you two ;)
    Hm, perhaps it's queen Ysabel, and she is worried about this thing she read in the book...can't tell you more, you must read to find out ;)

    I do love that too, so vivid, and cinematic.

    I sure hope you will like it, and I can't wait to see what you think

    Can't wait to hear your thoughts too :) I do have this HR *harlequin coughs* I think they had the inquisition there..weird, lol, perhaps I will read it one day

  15. Melissa
    Lol, good to know, when I decide to go and shout at all the idiots still in the world I will call you :=)

    I do hope you will like it, read it slowly, to savour it

    I approve of your nightstand then, lol

    I am happy to tell it is as good as they say

  16. As a lover of historical fiction this sounds like my kind of book. Glad you enjoyed it.

  17. I will be reading this one soon and I'm sure I'll love it!

  18. It sounds good. I'm not a historical fiction fan, but it has my interest.

  19. Hey honey! Stopping by to see how you are doing and to see what's going on! Hugs honey! I hope you and bf have a great weekend!

  20. You really enjoyed reading this. Can feel it. I have heard of the Spanish Inquisition but have not read of it. Promises to be interesting to a lot of individuals.

  21. Nise
    His fic is the best :) And I do think you would appreciate this book

    I can't wait to hear what you think about it :)

    That's a shame, but every his fic book is sure different so who knows ;)

    Hon *hugs* Have a great weekend you too!

    It was that, the conquering of Spain, an exodus, a lot to read about and I like that :)

  22. I'm currently reading this one myself.
    I agree, the writing really takes you to that time and place.
    Great review!

  23. Naida
    I will be looking forward to your review then and see what you feel and think :)

  24. I really do not like the Spanish Inquisition. It sounds worse than a legalized Al Qauida.

  25. Cherry
    The Spanish I was scary, evil and it was just crazy. Very happy I did not live back then

  26. So glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did. Excellent review B.
    Very moving and I'm with you on the idiot thing. I would say I can't imagine it but people can be dumb.

  27. Jenny
    I can't either, I just wanted to shout come one! The horrible thing that they thought exactly like that. I can't even imagine it



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