Monday, March 10, 2014

Blog Tour Review: The Mapmaker's Daughter by Laurel Corona

From the Back Cover:

A sweeping novel of 15th-century Spain explores the forgotten women of the Spanish Inquisition

In 1492, Amalia Riba sits in an empty room, waiting for soldiers to take her away. A converso forced to hide her religion from the outside world, She is the last in a long line of Jewish mapmakers, whose services to the court were so valuable that their religion had been tolerated by Muslims and Christians alike.

But times have changed. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquer Granada, the last holdout of Muslim rule in Spain, they issue an order expelling all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity. As Amalia looks back on her eventful life, we witness history in the making—the bustling court of Henry the Navigator, great discoveries in science and art, the fall of Muslim Granada, the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. And we watch as Amalia decides whether to relinquish what’s left of her true self, or risk her life preserving it.

My Thoughts:

The Mapmaker's Daughter tells the story of Amalia Riba, a fictional character who bears witness to the tragic path that leads from the persecution to the expulsion of Jews on the Iberian Peninsula in the latter half of the fifteenth century. She lives a long and eventful life during a turbulent period in history, and along the way she rubs elbows with some of the most famous historical figures of the time, from her childhood on the fringes of Prince Henry the Navigator's court, to tutoring a young Isabella of Castile and bearing witness to Torquemada's inquisition. I was taken with Amalia from the beginning, when we meet her as a small child living as a converso, a person of Jewish descent who lives openly as a Christian. But her mother and grandmother cling to their Jewish heritage, praying and performing rituals in secret, and Amalia embraces this part of her ancestry, cherishing the closeness she feels to these women in their moments of faith. But the world is changing around Amalia, and it becomes more and more dangerous to practice the old faith. As she matures into a young woman, torn between her outward and inward displays of faith, Amalia constantly questions what it means to be a Jew, what it means to be a Christian, and how she can be true to herself in a world where doing so could mean her death.

I really grew to love Amalia and to feel for her internal conflict and the heartwrenching choices she was forced to make to remain true to her beliefs. But the story became something different about two-thirds of the way through when the focus shifted from Amalia's deeply emotional personal journey to a broader narrative of the later years of her life, her daughter's life, and grandchildren's lives, and that of Portugal's and Spain's constant political clashes and religious persecution. The story lost most of its intimacy at that point, and I found the huge cast of characters--many of whom were her grandchildren, and some of whom had the same names as other characters--hard to keep straight. I confess to skimming a bit at this point to get to the end and the climactic moment when Amalia would choose the course of her future. But I must say that after all of the build-up, the ending did not provide me with the closure I needed to say good-bye to Amalia's story. It was so abrupt and vague that I thought for a moment that I had a defective copy and was missing a final chapter. But that was not the case.

Though there were moments of brightness and joy, I found this story to ultimately be rather depressing. While I could admire Amalia's devotion to her faith, and the joy she took in sharing it with her family, I couldn't help but think of how much she lost because of that devotion, and I grieved for how differently her life might have turned out and what might have been. Especially given that she did harbor some regrets and had a deep sense of having an element missing from her life. I was left wondering if it was all worth the cost, and I don't know if, at the end, she could really say that it was. I just turned the last page feeling unbearably sad, both for her character and for the tragedy that befell the Jewish people during this time in history. The Mapmaker's Daughter is very well written and impeccably researched, and I can recommend it as a worthy read for such a personal insight into this period of religious persecution, but be prepared for the overriding sense of sadness and loss that flows through the story.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars out of 5

The Mapmaker's Daughter is on a blog tour!
Visit Sourcebooks to read an excerpt and check out reader reviews.


  1. This sounds a very interesting read. I have only read a little on the Inquisition and this aspect of it affecting women is something new to me

    1. Another good one about this time period from a commoner's perspective is By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan.

  2. I don't remember reading much about the expulsion of the Jews before, but in the last six months I have read two books that talk about this and I have this one waiting for me too.

    1. In addition to the one I just recommended to Mystica, I also enjoyed Jean Plaidy's For a Queen's Love and C.W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow.

  3. Omg, we really did have almost the exact reaction! And yes, the ending did feel abrupt -- I should have noted that in my review. Although to be honest, I was grateful it had ended at that point, which is probably why it didn't stick out in my mind!


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