By Fire, by Water is the debut novel from historical fiction writer Mitchell James Kaplan. Kaplan takes on an important and turbulent period in time – the fifteenth century – in late Medieval Spain with the melting pot of Jews, Christians and Moors, and creates an original story with a backdrop of true events and mostly real characters who actually existed.
The Spanish Inquisition is at its highpoint, targeting and searching for heretics and anyone to wishes ill will against the church, and looks to punish and torture as needed in an attempt to unify the kingdoms of Spain under Christian rule. A man known as Christopher Columbus is doing what he can to put together a sea-faring expedition across the ocean in search of the rich lands of the Indies. One of the main characters in By Fire, by Water is Luis de Santángel, who is chancellor to the king of Aragon, but also financier to Columbus, trying to help out his friend however he can. Meanwhile to the south of Spain, in the Muslim ruled Granada is the only original character in the book – Judith Migdal – a beautiful Jewish woman who is a learned silversmith trying her best to get by with her skilled talent. As the Inquisition steps up its inquisitorial ways in preventing the spread of Judaism, Santángel – who converted from Judaism to Christianity – meets and befriends Judith, as the two become close, with the Inquisition watching closely by.
Kaplan has done an immense amount of research with By Fire, by Water, never overloading the reader with facts and details, but skillfully interweaving them so the reader is taken along on this enchanting story with actual events, as well as learning a lot on fifteenth century Spain, and this fractious period in history.
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Originally written on September 29 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.