fiction · history

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan


By Fire, By Water

Author: Mitchell James Kaplan

Pages [paperback]: 277

Available now!


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.
Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.


I received this book from the author for review, with no idea of what to expect. I ended up loving this book! By Fire, By Water, Mitchell James Kaplan’s debut novel, had me interested from the start. It started right in with the suspense, and steadily kept my attention to the end. The characters’ struggles were vividly depicted and realistic.

It’s taken for granted that historical fiction takes facts and twists them to fit in with the plot line and drum up a little drama. I love how at the end of the book everything that was changed/unchanged is explained. The main body of the narrative was accurate, yet I like to see what has been speculated about and can’t be known for certain if it is true or not.

The Spanish Inquisition was a horrible time to live through. No one knew who would accuse whom, who would be arrested and never seen again. The brutality and confusion of this time is particularly emphasized, and I like how the different experiences of just a few characters give a glimpse into what the common people possibly experienced.

By Fire, By Water is great for any historical fiction fan or those that, like me, are new to the genre. I immensely liked this novel and give it 5/5 stars!


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