In September I made a list of goals for the remainder of 2010. On this list I included a goal of reading more poetry, history, and historic fiction. Let me tell you, I was failing at this particular goal until I received a copy of Mitchell James Kaplan's By Fire, By Water. When it comes to historical fiction my knowledge and experience is very small so I was not sure what to expect upon this book. I know little about the Spanish Inquisition nor do I know much about the Jewish faith. While raised Catholic I myself have not been a practicing Catholic since I was thirteen. But this book- it brought me to a time and place that I've never been before, where I was wide eyed with interest and rushing from scene to scene.
In Mitchell James Kaplan's first novel we, as readers, travel to the time of the Spanish Inquisition and one man, Luis de Santangel, is tired of it all. Anyone suspected of practicing the Jewish faith is questioned and tortured, everyone is expected to be of the Christian faith. Luis de Santangel, who comes from a family of Jews but converted has always been a target but when an important man who is involved in the Inquisition is suddenly found murdered Santangel finds himself a suspect. With his family being threatened, his friends being seen as suspicious, and Santangel himself facing the possibility of being questioned the reader faces the cruelty of that time period. The injustice of being forced into a belief is clear and it's a frightening concept as is most historical events. I am one of those readers who always tries to place myself into the plot. I feel that being able to creatively guess how I would feel in that situation gets me to better understand the characters. It allows me to feel their joys and pains. While Santangel is a tough character and will perform less than moral actions to get what he wants I understand his position. Toss in the rest of the historical figures and moments; they all tie together nicely and make for a novel that captures your attention.
It drew my interest in ways that I did not expect. I have a greater curiosity of the Spanish Inquisition and would like to learn more of the politics and history of it all. The only problem I had with this novel was- how do I score it on goodreads? It is a great novel and I think a great historical novel too however... I haven't much to compare it to. But I am sure even if I were to read many a historic novel in the future this will remain one of my favorites. I've already begun suggesting the book to people I know and now I suggest it to you all. Please, pick it up and read it.