Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Teaser Tuesday + Review: By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two "teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists!

This week my teaser comes from a book I recently read and enjoyed, By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan, which has just won the 2011 Gold Medal Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Historical Fiction! I wanted to share this teaser because I think, in one simple sentence, it embodies the essence of the very complex main character, Luis Santangel, and the simplistic elegance with which this novel was written. From page 242:

By Fire, By WaterShe had misjudged him. She had thought him a Christian and therefore unworthy of her trust. Tonight he was neither Christian nor Jew but simply a man.

By Fire, By WaterFrom the Back Cover:

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 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.

My Thoughts:

By Fire, By Water tells the story of Luis Santangel, a powerful man who holds the pursestrings and the ear of King Ferdinand, yet is powerless to help his ancestors' people, and even his own family, in the face of the New Inquisition and a queen's religious fanaticism. Spain in the late fifteenth century is a place where Christians, Jews, and the remnants of the Muslim empire share a tenuous coexistance, but the flames of the Inquisition are spreading, leaving fear, paranoia, and hatred in their shadows. As a converso, a Christian of Jewish descent, Luis has to be more careful than most. But he is curious about the faith his grandparents practiced, and why it inspires such fear and hatred in the Catholics. His quest for knowledge with a small, secret group of scholars sets him on a dangerous path that ultimately leads to murder, betrayal, and tragedy as the Inquisition turns its eyes to those closest to the royal household.

Along that path, Luis's story becomes intertwined with that of Judith Migdal, a lovely Jewish spinster in the Muslim kingdom of Granada who takes on the burden of supporting her brother's family after his murder. Judith learns the silversmith trade, and after years of hard work finally finds financial success, and love, only to lose it all when the king and queen expel the Jews from Spain. Luis's path also merges with that of his good friend Christophe Colombo (Christopher Columbus) as he engages Luis's help in funding an expedition to discover paradise, and religious freedom.

In his author's note, Kaplan calls Luis the prototype of the modern man, and I was struck by that, because as I'd been reading I'd admired the many different facets of Luis and his struggle to reconcile his need for information and fulfillment with his sense of honor and justice, and the much stronger and very human instinct to survive. This is a well-crafted, poignant story of one man's journey of self-discovery and survival; beautifully written with a simple, yet elegant style, and a subtle attention to detail that immerses the senses in fifteenth century Spain. A worthy addition to any historical fiction fan's reading list.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars out of 5

*Please note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.


  1. The book was so wonderful, great language, amazing story

  2. Aren't they all simply men. Good teaser.


  3. Wow! Thats a intriguing teaser! Wonder what made her think so..

    Here is mine


  4. Great teaser, this is a book for my wishlist! Thanks for stopping by my blog


  5. This one has received a lot of positive reviews but I have not read it. I am glad you enjoyed it so much.

  6. Oooh, want! This book sounds marvelous -- so glad you enjoyed it. I'm adding to my TBR stat - like you said, the language is really lovely.

  7. Great choice for teaser! I loved this book.

  8. A profound teaser. Sounds like a good book!
    My teaser: A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man

  9. This is a great teaser and the book sounds quite good!

  10. I remember that line from By Fire, By Water! This book was so good!

  11. Good teaser and fantastic review!

  12. Nice teaser - hope you are enjoying the book.

  13. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing. If you get a chance, my teaser is here.

  14. What a teaser!! Another novel to check out?!. I really like teaser tuesdays!

    Here is my Teaser Tuesday: Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson post!

  15. I hadn't heard of this book, but I'm curious now. Your review has me inspired to find it. Good teaser selection btw. Thanks for visiting my blog.



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