“By Fire, by Water” by Mitchell James Kaplan (Other Press, 2010)

By Fire, by Waterstarstarstar

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.

5/6 On the Bookshelf . . . “Templar Knight,” “Test,” “By Fire, By Water,” “The History of the Early Medieval Siege,” & “Life After Death”

Templar Knight

After reviewing the first in the trilogy from Swedish author Jan Guillou, The Road to Jerusalem, I’m looking forward to this next installment.  Though this new cover style seems to be trying to catch people’s eyes as compared to the first book:

Road to Jerusalem

I’m a relatively recent William Sleator fan, after having him recommended by my wife who read him a lot when she was younger.  I’ve started with some of his older books, but he’s still churning them out, and am looking forward to his latest, Test:


By Fire, By Water

Don’t quite remember where I caught sight of this book, By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan, but it’s his debut novel set in 15th-century Spain about the Inquisition, so very much my type of book.

The History of the Medieval Siege

The next tome in my medieval readings: A History of the Early Medieval Siege, c. 450-1200 (which isn’t due out until October), which will certainly be a fascinating read for me, and serve as some important research for my medieval historical fiction novel, Wyrd.

Life After Death

Last but not least is Life After Death by Alan F. Segal, which I’ve had my eye on for literally years, since its publication in 2004.  The subtitle is: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion.  I simply haven’t been willing to spend the $40 cover price for it, and just this last week received an alert from Powells for a used copy (which looks like new to me) for $15, so snatched it up immediately.  The book will prove to be an interesting read, as well as research for a future book, however, I don’t expect to be reading this one anytime soon, but am happy to finally have it on my shelf.