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Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Review: Prisoner of the Inquisition

Author: Theresa Breslin

Release date: 1st April 2010 UK
Genre: Historical
Target audience: 11+
UK Publisher: Random House Children's Books

Summary from Amazon:
Zarita, only daughter of the town magistrate, lives a life of wealth and privilege. Indulged by her parents, she is free to spend her days as she pleases, enjoying herself in the company of an eligible young nobleman, horse riding, or leisurely studying the arts. Saulo, son of a family reduced by circumstances to begging, witnesses his father wrongfully arrested and dealt with in the most horrifying way. Hauled off to be a slave at sea and pursued by pirates he encounters the ambitious mariner explorer, Christopher Columbus. Throughout his hardships Saulo is determined to survive - for he has sworn vengeance on the magistrate and his family. As Zarita's life also undergoes harsh changes the formidable and frightening Inquisition arrives in the area, bringing menacing shadows of suspicion with acts of cruel brutality - and ultimately, amid the intrigues of the court of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in the splendid Moorish city of Grenada, betrayal and revenge...

Prisoner of the Inquisition confirms my suspicions that Theresa Breslin is a superb writer of historical young adult fiction. She weaves a tale that has you hanging on the characters’ every word, every pause for thought. Breslin has a gift to make you feel like you lived in times gone past. It is quite remarkable. Thankfully, I live in the twenty-first century and not in fifteenth century Spain though because the atrocities that Breslin describes are unbearably dark.

Zarita is young naive girl at the beginning of the story. Her head is turned by the handsome nobleman Ramon Salazar. She rushes to the church to pray for her mother who is experiencing a difficult childbirth. Whilst she is in the church, she is approached by a beggar. The poor man’s wife is slowly dying and he has no money to buy medicine or feed his child. The man reaches out to Zarita. In her shock and embarrassment she cries that he touched her. Ramon Salazar who was waiting outside the church chases down the beggar man and with the help of two soldiers drags him to the home of the magistrate (Zarita’s father). He condemns the beggar to death and the man is hanged. Unbeknown to everyone the scene has unfolded before the eyes of the beggar man’s son – Saulo. In his anger he steps forth and challenges the magistrate. The magistrate condemns him to death too but Zarita begs for his life and the magistrate spares him. He orders the soldiers to give him over as a slave on a boat and thus Saulo begins a hard life at sea.

Saulo spends his days planning his revenge on the magistrate and his family. He knows that his father never harmed the girl (Zarita) and he will have his vengeance. Aboard the ship he finds comfort from one of the free man who row for the Captain Cosimo. Lomas helps to keep Saulo safe from the less honourable men who sail with them. Saulo also bonds with the Captain and finds out that he has a natural aptitude for sailing. Meanwhile, back in the Spanish town where Zarita lives the inquisition have arrived and are only too happy to seek out heretics and the devil’s work.

As the novel builds both Zarita and Saulo have to confront their mistakes, their guilt and their losses. The story is told from their alternating points of view and as the reader you feel affection for both characters. The plot is well-crafted and expertly paced with tension rising as the purposes of the inquisition come to light. The setting of fifteenth century Spain and life on board a trading ship are vividly described and compelling.

Prisoner of the Inquisition explores themes that relate to the heart of what it is to be human: beliefs, anger, forgiveness, compassion, love. It was a novel that swept me away into its historical period and enveloped me in the need for the characters to find atonement. I loved it!

Thank you to the lovely ladies at Random House for letting me pick this off their book shelves.


So Many Books, So Little Time said...

I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, but this sounds amazing. I love it when books explore what it means to be human.

Katherine Roberts said...

This sounds great! Thank you for the review, Becky.

So Many Books... why doesn't historical fiction do it for you? (am interested because I write historical fiction myself!)

So Many Books, So Little Time said...

Katherine - I'm not really sure. It's seems to be a bit like Marmite for me. That's not to say that I won't give it a go!

Lauren said...

I'd heard of this one before but kind of assumed I wouldn't enjoy it - I just got the impression it would be a little dry. However, your review has made me reconsider. From what you've said, I'm thinking this sounds just the opposite: rich and moving and like the kind of story that'll sweep me away too. Thanks for the heads up!

I Want To Read That said...

Interesting! I'm wondering if I will like this - I hadn't heard of it before (bad me!) but have been eyeing up The Medici Seal and The Nostradamus Prophecy. Which would you recommend?

Becky said...

Sophie, historical fiction is great. I adore it. Can't exactly say why I do, I just do!

Katherine, it is a pleasure. I think this is just your kind of book.

Sophie, hello again. Well I think if you're willing to give it a try then you are bound to find a historical novel that is just your cup of tea.

Lauren, a little dry?! LOL. Not at all, this is really great. I am bias though because I love Theresa's writing and plotting.

Sammee, I would recommend The Medici Seal. It is my favourite of Theresa's novels. I completely devoured it. Hope you give it a go.