BN.com Gift Guide
Customer Reviews for

By Fire, By Water

Average Rating 4
( 15 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

Outstanding Read

I consider myself somewhat of a specialist in this period, having majored in History at Brown, concentrating on medieval Spain. As historical novels go, Kaplan got the history about as right as possible, down to many obscure details. But this book is far from being a m...
I consider myself somewhat of a specialist in this period, having majored in History at Brown, concentrating on medieval Spain. As historical novels go, Kaplan got the history about as right as possible, down to many obscure details. But this book is far from being a mere history lesson. It's a gripping tale, with characters you can relate to on many levels, who are caught up in a time of unstoppable change. We see Columbus and the others as part of a larger picture. The reader's interest never flags.

posted by compulsive_reader64 on August 27, 2010

Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review

Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

Compelling Time in History

I don't know exactly how to say that I liked reading about this period in history. It infuriated me sometimes, but it felt important to know. I'd heard about the Spanish Inquisition, of course, but I hadn't really thought about who might have been targeted. I was appall...
I don't know exactly how to say that I liked reading about this period in history. It infuriated me sometimes, but it felt important to know. I'd heard about the Spanish Inquisition, of course, but I hadn't really thought about who might have been targeted. I was appalled at the ultimate action the authorities took against the Jewish people. I read Poison: A Novel of the Renaissance at the same time that I read this book, completely unintentionally, and the two books fit well together. By Fire, By Water gave me the background and Poison showed me how the Jews fared afterward. Needless to say, it wasn't that well.

I never quite connected to Santángel. I think it would be safe to say that I'm a coward. I would have kept my mouth shut and been at the Church all the time. That wouldn't have been any guarantee of safety in that suspicious, greedy climate, but it would have been better than running around asking questions about your Jewish roots. I just didn't quite get his motivation. He's obviously an intelligent man, he knows what's going on with the Inquisition, so why take the chance? Perhaps if the story had been written from his point of view, I would have understood better. I occasionally have this complaint about third person point of view, so this could just be me.

I did like Judith a lot. She's taking care of her nephew and her sister-in-law's father. How many people would take on the old man? But she does her best for them both. She doesn't have many options as a woman at this time, but she does what she needs to in order to survive. She becomes a silversmith. She establishes her own trade, and she learns to read. I was very impressed with her. As her fortunes rise and fall, she continues to adjust her plans accordingly. She's a survivor who manages to stay pretty true to herself. She's a character I would like to know in real life.

I feel like I learned some eye-opening bits of history. I recommend this to anyone curious about this period of time. The author calls it cataclysmic and I would have to agree. These periods of violence and hatred are never easy to read about, but it is important that we remember them so we never travel those paths again.

posted by TheIntrovertedReader on August 23, 2010

Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 9 review with 5 star rating   See All Ratings
Page 1 of 1
  • Posted January 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Absolutely Stunning

    By Fire, By Water is former screenwriter Mitchell James Kaplan's first novel. Set during 15th-Century Spain, By Fire, By Water takes the reader on a journey through Spain during the time of the Inquisition and the expansion of the Spanish empire. The novel is told with exquisite detail (six years of research!) and rich, layered characters.

    King Ferdinand's chancellor and close friend Luis de Santangel thinks that the Spanish Inquisition has done nothing but create a landscape of fear and paranoia in Spain. Fed up with the power-hungry inquisitor, General Tomás de Torquemada, he sets out with friend Christopher Columbus to Rome in the hopes that the Pope will somehow intervene. Santangel is especially nervous not only for himself, but his son and brother, because they come from a long line of conversos. (Conversos are families who were formerly of the Jewish faith but have made the transition over to Catholicism). Santangel has been having secret meetings with his aide, a Catholic priest named Caceres, and a Jewish scribe, discussing the theological differences between Judaism and Catholicism. Fearful that these meetings will be discovered after his aide is put to death for his defiance of the teachings of the Catholic Church, Santangel and Caceres hire an assassin to kill an influential priest responsible for his aide's torture and subsequent death. Witnessing the religious climate around him becoming more hostile, Santangel begins to turn to his roots in the Jewish faith in an increasingly anti-Semitic atmosphere. Santangel must try to escape persecution for the contract killing, as well as deal with his ever-growing love for Judith, a silver craftswomen, all while deciding what is more important to him: his faith or his life.

    Kaplan does an absolutely superb job weaving the storylines of Santangel, Judith, Columbus, and the King and Queen of Spain together. Their individual stories come together effortlessly in this bloggers opinion. Kaplan is a born writer, with his eloquent writing style drawing you in from page one. It is so apparent that he researched this story, as it is just bursting at the seams with intricate detail. I honestly felt like I could visually see everything Kaplan was describing from the landscapes of Spain and Granada all the way down to the detail of the characters' clothing and jewelry. It is by far one of the best parts about the novel.

    The characters of this story, as I stated earlier, are so rich and layered. Santangel is one hell of a protagonist. There are so many layers and depths to him. You think you know how he is feeling and what kind of reaction he'll have and then BAM you get hit with another layer. The character of Judith is one of the only people in the story who didn't exist in real life. You'd never know it! Kaplan gives her a fantastic back story that rivals that of the actual real life stories of the other characters. That's one of my favorite things about historical fiction, the way in which it ties fiction and non-fiction together. To know all along that this story has roots in reality makes it even more exciting.

    I cannot recommend this book enough. I am so glad Mr. Kaplan got in touch with me to review this book!! He wrote a book for an adult mind and in doing so he has cemented his place in the literary world. I am so excited to read his future works, as he has definitely become one of my favorite authors.

    Kimberly (Reflections of a Book A

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 27, 2010

    Outstanding Read

    I consider myself somewhat of a specialist in this period, having majored in History at Brown, concentrating on medieval Spain. As historical novels go, Kaplan got the history about as right as possible, down to many obscure details. But this book is far from being a mere history lesson. It's a gripping tale, with characters you can relate to on many levels, who are caught up in a time of unstoppable change. We see Columbus and the others as part of a larger picture. The reader's interest never flags.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 14, 2011

    Powerful and gorgeously written

    Set in Spain during the 15th Century, BY FIRE, BY WATER is a gorgeously executed book that exemplifies historical fiction at its finest. Written with intelligence and beautifully rendered prose, the story is vivid and as complex as a medieval tapestry. Mitchell Kaplan has seamlessly brought together themes of love, theology, politics, brutality and the deepest longings and treacheries of highly complex characters. He does this while remaining true to the most delicate (and horrific) historical facts of the Spanish Inquisition.

    With tremendous research and a surgeon's skill, Kaplan peels back, layer by layer, a time in history that is as unspeakably brutal as it is heartbreakingly beautiful. By threading so many fascinating facts (many of which are beautifully nuanced) into the story while giving the characters breath and blood and believability, BY FIRE, BY WATER accomplishes a rarity in historical fiction-a read that is riveting and unputdownable. I was drawn into the lives of Luis de Santángel, King Ferdinad and Queen Isabella, Christopher Columbus, and Judith Midgal, and I was mesmerized.

    Mitchell Kaplan has crafted a masterpiece that shouldn't be missed. Historical fiction simply doesn't get any better than this. Highly recommended!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Historical Fiction at Its Finest

    The Inquisition was a tribunal set by the Roman Catholics for uncovering heresy, and which initially started during the medieval time period in France. It subsequently made its way to Spain in the late 1400s, and focused on Jews and New Christians. Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand petitioned the Pope to establish the tribunals and Inquisition, and once approved, the beginning of a period of sadness began, with the eventual expulsion of all Jews in 1492 from Spain. Why have I only heard in quick passing the Inquisition and the actual horrors that surrounded this event? Sure, I know a little bit about this tragic event in history, but do I really know enough?

    Two days with Mitchell James Kaplan's debut novel, By Fire, By Water has made me so energized to learn more about this time period, that I'm scrambling for additional knowledge. There are so many characters that I absolutely loved, and some that I completely and thoroughly despised because of their participation in such a sordid event. All, though, are plagued with an internal battle of right and wrong, and some deal with it in an honest and ethical manner in the spirit of ultimate discussion and the meeting of the minds, while some betrayed the very nature of humanity and instead became a vile part of history.

    Mitchell James Kaplan has done what incredible historical fiction does best -- he has centered a story around a monumental event in history, attached to it etched in time real people, and crafted a meaningful and captivating tale of life in the late 14th century. There is terror, betrayal, love, and most especially, loss.

    And my heart absolutely broke in two at the end. I highly recommend this book and am excited to read more from this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    By Fire By Water is a Thrilling Ride

    Mitchell James Kaplan's debut novel is set in fifteenth century Spain during the time of the New Inquisition when King Fernando and Queen Ysabel were waging war and expelling all Jews from Spain. This period is also remembered for Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) and his discovery of the Western Hemisphere. Kaplan has taken all of these events and created an historical novel of depth, passion and faith which held me spellbound.

    Luis de Santangel, a converso (the Spanish term which designates a person whose parents or grandparents abandoned their Jewish faith and embraced Christianity.usually under duress) and chancellor to the throne, takes center stage in By Fire, By Water. Horrified by what the Inquisition is doing, Luis finds himself deeply conflicted by his Christian faith. He longs to understand the differences between the Jewish and Christian beliefs. This struggle leads him to engage in secret meetings with a Jewish scribe and several others to learn more about the faith his family abandoned.

    When a close friend is arrested and dies, Luis becomes enraged at a system that punishes those who dare question the edicts and beliefs of the Church. His choice to silence the Chief Inquisitor of Aragon (Pedro de Arbues) puts his life and the lives of his family in danger.

    A parallel story - that of a Jewish silversmith who is raising her orphaned nephew in the endangered city of Granada - is seamlessly inserted into the novel. Judith Migdal is a strong, inspiring character.and it is no surprise when her path crosses Luis' as the Spanish war machine grinds ever closer to her home.

    By Fire, By Water closely follows the historical record, but it is also very much a novel.bringing to life the streets of fifteenth century Spain, the horrors of the Inquisition (Kaplan does not spare readers the brutal torture endured by those arrested), and the drama of the time period when new lands were being discovered by sea exploration.

    Big, passionate, brilliantly written, full of court intrigue and religious politics, I loved this novel. I read the last half of the book in one afternoon, unable to lay it aside until I knew what would happen. Kaplan's descriptions are gorgeous. He effortlessly transports the reader into the past. He also brings forth the questions of the time: What were the motivations of King Fernando and Queen Ysabel? Were they simply religious fanatics, or were financial considerations the primary reason for supporting the Inquisition and the ultimate expulsion of the Jews from Spain?

    Kaplan writes in his author's note at the end of the book:

    "The purpose of a historical novel is to locate and reveal the dramatic core of history."

    If that is the purpose, then I would congratulate Kaplan on achieving it. By Fire, By Water is a must read for historical fiction fans, especially those interested in fifteenth century Spain.

    Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 13, 2012

    Superb, literary historical novel. We hear all the time about b

    Superb, literary historical novel.

    We hear all the time about books that are well reviewed, get accolades, and we readers who follow such recommendations sometimes feel let down. But you will not feel that way about this little gem that comes from a prestigious independent publisher. It deserves all the recognition and prizes it was won.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 4, 2010

    A Masteful By Fire By Water

    A masterful creation for a first novel, "By Fire and Water" is an outstanding historical novel on the struggle of Luis Santangel, King Ferdinand's "Escribano de racion" (Controller of the Treasury or Treasurer Chancellor), during the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. As a third generation convert from Judaism, he struggles with his life as a Marano and his Jewish ties.
    The author succeeded in constructing an excellent balance between facts and fiction, but he was faithfull to the accuracy of actual historical events which he researched in great details.
    A great future awaits Mitchell Kaplan if he follows up with another novel of the same caliber.

    Review by Avraham Anouchi

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 9 review with 5 star rating   See All Ratings
Page 1 of 1