by James Mitchell Kaplan
Published by Other Press
Review Copy provided by Publisher
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.
This was a beautifully crafted novel. It exceeded my expectations in every way. Kaplan clearly did his research well and thoroughly before weaving this story of the Spanish Inquisition.
I do enjoy historical fiction, but I've never enjoyed one as much as I enjoyed this one. Kaplan tells two parallel stories. One of a high official in King Fernando's court, and another of a young single Jewish woman. By the time the stories begin to intertwine with one another you are completely immersed in the drama of the war, and fully aware of the abuse of power among those in charge of the Inquisition.
I personally loved the story of Judith, a young Jewish woman working as a silversmith to support her nephew and the father-in-law of her deceased brother. Her dedication to her family was touching. Even as they lived in an area where they weren't truly "free" but rather kept separate because of their religious beliefs, they seemed content and somewhat unaffected by the turmoil in their own region. Her actions when that all changes, and the hard decisions she must make, are heartbreaking.
This novel has drama, suspense, a little romance, and a lot of theological insight into the connected-ness of the Jews and the Christians. If you only ever read one historical fiction novel, I would recommend it be By Fire, By Water.