Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “By Fire, By Water” as Want to Read:
By Fire, By Water
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

By Fire, By Water

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,074 ratings  ·  193 reviews
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 ta ...more
Paperback, 284 pages
Published May 18th 2010 by Other Press (NY)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.74  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,074 ratings  ·  193 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of By Fire, By Water
Jan 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Chrissie by: Lauren Teitelbaum
This book was amazing - so it gets five stars! The writing style was both informative and magnificently vivid. The reader sees Spain at the end of the 1400s during the Spanish Inquisition. You see it, you feel it and you smell it. The colors, the smells, the textures, the grit the sounds, both the beauty and the wretchedness - they are all there. The horrors of the Inquisition are made so real that it becomes very hard to even read...... That IS how it was. I don't want a fairy tale picture of i ...more
Mar 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Staci by: Mitchell Kaplan
Shelves: 2011-reads
My thoughts:
Wow....that's what I think...WOW!! Never in a million years would I say that historical fiction about the New Inquisition during the Medieval times would be intriguing, but I have to say that Kaplan wrote a book that had me turning the pages late into the night and wanting to get up at the crack of dawn to start reading again. The author's writing is so vivid and intense that I felt as if I was walking along side the characters. I loved every aspect of this story, but most of all I l
Jun 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, historical
From My Blog...[return][return]An in-depth historical journey into the Spanish Inquisitions occurring throughout 15th century Spain under the rule of King Fernando and Queen Ysabel, Mitchell James Kaplan takes his readers to two very different sections of Spain; the predominately Christian section of Zaragoza and the Jewish settlement within Muslim Granada where Kaplan details the lives of the families and the effects the New Inquisition has upon them in Kaplan’s stunning debut novel By Fire, By ...more
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Misfit by: Amazon Vine
"He had fought his entire life for acceptance and dignity in a society where neither was his birthright. To abandon that struggle, to walk away from his achievements, would be to hand a victory to those who wished to deny his humanity."

Luis de Santángel is chancellor to King Ferdinand, but he is also a Conversos - of Jewish heritage but converted to Christianity - and with the Spanish inquisition in full force that's not always the safest thing to be. Luis decides to explore his Jewish heritage
Dec 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Set in the 15th century Spain, during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella: the time of the New Inquisition, the reconquest of Granada from Moors, the expulsion of all Jews from Spain, and Christopher Columbus’s so-called discovery of the Western Hemisphere. The story touches upon the dilemma of Jewish conversos – forced to convert or leave; viewed suspiciously by Catholics and questioningly by Jews.

It is a story of Luis de Santangel, a man “caught between competing faiths, social classes, and l
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historical fiction readers
Shelves: spain
This novel is a fascinating account of the Spanish Inquisition and is told through the experiences of Muslims, Jews, Christians, voluntary and involuntary converts, as well as historical figures Isabel, Ferdinand, Columbus, Torquemada and the main character, Santángel, among others. I wanted a break from Tudor period fiction and I found this book engrossing and thought provoking. Kaplan's prose is beautiful, descriptive and heart wrenching. He makes every word count. I was pleased to read this b ...more
Stephen Welch
Feb 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
By Fire, By Water contains all the elements of the best historical fiction. It's well-written, well-researched, but more importantly, it has an engaging plot and memorable characters. And I left the novel understanding more about the place, the history, and its human drama than when I had entered.

There's political intrigue here, and even a clever touch of religious conspiracy (loved the appearance of the "Toledot Yeshu"!).

I highly recommend By Fire, By Water.

May 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 as vivid and 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 f ...more
Julie Smith
Jul 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
This review first appeared on my blog Knitting and Sundries

I'm a huge fan of historical fiction. I love reading about other cultures, other times, and learning more about periods that I may only have a fleeting knowledge of.

This book is a gem; meticulously researched, but written in such a fashion that you are drawn in almost from the first.

Conversos were Jewish people who converted to Christianity; however, they were all looked at with suspicion by those aligned with the Spanish Inquisition. It
Patricia O'Sullivan
Dec 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
In 1492, three events would change Iberia and change the world: Isabella and Ferdinand’s reconquest of Muslim Granada, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and Columbus’s discovery of the New World. In his debut novel, By Fire, By Water, Mitchell James Kaplan shows how these events can all be traced back to Luis de Santángel, a third-generation Christian who served as chancellor to the crown. In the novel, Santángel is a likeable character whose curiosity about the Judaism of his grandparents g ...more
May 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE!
This was a phenomenal and well-written novel that I will continue to cherish. I am so glad I was one of the winners of Amy’s contest and experienced this book.

By Fire, By Water is a story of humanity, connectedness, love, betrayal, heartbreak, faith, and hope. It is a story of the New Inquisition, the reconquest of Granada by Spain, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the discoveries of Cristóbal Colón, and the people whom all of these events affect.

It is a story of many people - as intricate
Jul 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: love-it
This is a great book, historically and imaginatively. A crucial moment in time - 1492 - when the "new world" was being discovered, but the "old world" of the Spanish Inquisition was busy torturing and killing Jews and Christians suspected of sympathizing with their Jewish friends - but really it was all about power and grabbing their property and money. Kaplan is a poetic writer whose characters are interesting and deep, and he gives you enough history and authenticity without overdoing the deta ...more
David Silver
Jul 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I don't usually read historical novels and was skeptical at first. But the author's prose style and his characters pulled me in. By the end of the book I realized that his ambition was much bigger than just to tell a great story. By placing Columbus in his world, he gave me insight into the real meaning of his 1492 voyage. Brilliant!

Oct 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a very satisfying read. A story that connects The Spanish Inquisition, Cristobel Colon (aka Christopher Columbus) and the exiling of the Jewish population from Spain.

Mitchell James Kaplan took 6 years to write this book, and the end product deserves praise. For such a weighty subject, the writing flows and the story grabs you by the hand and leads you through the medieval world of what we now consider Spain.

The main protagonist, Luis de Santangel, Chancellor to the court of Isabel and F
3.75 Stars Really good historical fiction. Kaplan telescopes three big issues in a shortened time--that Reclaiming of Spain from the Moors, the Spanish Inquisiton, and some about Columbus' first expedition. Despite all the telescoping, Kaplan keeps good tabs on where we are in the story. Never got lost for all the complexity of historical events.

Kaplan also helps the reader to have a look into social groups. The rulers--Isabel and Fernindan. A few of their high-level assistants--a tax-collector,
May 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gave-away
Reviewed for Author Exposure

By Fire, By Water transports the reader to a chaotic, shameful, yet unprecedented period in world history. Late in the 15th Century, Queen Ysabel of Castile and King Fernando of Aragon, politically connected through their marriage, sought not only to unite all of Spain’s kingdoms, but also to fully purge non-Christians from their unified Roman Catholic sovereignty. While the monarchy’s original intent to unify Spain spawned
Wendy W Robards
Jul 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
“We must recover that book. The log of his testimony.” Turning back to the priest, he affirmed aloud what they both knew. “And the canon, he must die. Pedro de Arbues,” he nodded slowly, “must die before he destroys you, me, and our associates.”

Caceres lowered his voice. “I know the man to do it. A horseman. A Basque. A skilled assassin.”

They looked into each other’s eyes. It occurred to Santangel that if he had ever felt anything akin to Christian love, it was in this moment, in their shared ha
Mar 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
By Fire, By Water is a wonderful and devastating look at the unification of Spain in the late 15th Century. The novel centers on the growth of the Spanish Inquisition, the Catholic conquest of the Islamic kingdom of Granada, and the discovery of the New World, told through the perspective of two disparate characters. Luis de Santangel is the Aragonese chancellor of King Fernando and Queen Ysabel of Spain, los Reyes Catolicos. He looks to be prosperous and powerful, yet he cannot shake the stigma ...more
Jan 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
By Fire, By Water tells the story of an important period in the history of Spain. A time of progress and discovery, as Christopher Columbus prepares to set out on his legendary voyage to the Indies and seeks funding from the Spanish court. But also a time of fear and suffering with Tomas de Torquemada's New Inquisition designed to root out heresy.

Luis de Santángel, the King's chancellor, is a converso - his family has recently converted from Judaism to Christianity - and his Jewish heritage mean
Sandy Vaughan
Aug 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: e-books
While reviewing what I should read next, I realized I never read or reviewed this book because it never arrived. Feeling most embarrassed, I contacted Mr. Kaplan to explain why I had never written the review. Nice man that he is, he asked if I still wanted to read it. Silly man. To save us both time, I suggested he send me an electric copy as I have both Nook and Kindle loaded on my Mac. Within 24 hours it was on my computer and ready for reading!

Less than 36 hours later, it was finished (who n
Luis de Santángel is chancellor to King Fernando (Ferdinand) of Aragon but he is also a third generation Christian, converso, but when the Spanish Inquisition starts in full force it’s not safe to have Jewish connections. At the same time Luis grows curious about his Jewish heritage and starts to see theologian in secret but soon catches the eyes of inquisitor and soon finds out that he or his family isn’t safe.

We also hear the story of Judith, a Jewish silversmith, who catches Luis’ eyes. Luis
Dec 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Marcia Fine
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Historical fiction is my favorite genre and since I write about the Inquisition, I was interested to read this author's point of view. Kaplan has done outstanding research and brings to light Luis de Santangel, a converso and chancellor to King Ferdinand. We see the monarchs as they make their decision to unify Spain and cast out the Jews and Moslems. The Jews were singled out for persecution because the others had armies. The author's character development of our hero is a textured one. Smart a ...more
Jo Butler
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Purification of a society, whether by race, religion, sexuality, or difference of custom is never good, but humans can’t seem to resist it. Our history is rife with purges. Christians were sacrificed in the Coliseum. Witches were burned and hanged. The horror in Rwanda, and the Holocaust.

Jews have been the target of many a purification, including the notorious Spanish Inquisition. Mitchell Kaplan has examined the Inquisition in his 2010 historical novel, By Fire, By Water. Luis de Santangel is b
Jun 27, 2010 rated it liked it
There was so much truth in the characterization, the narrative was compelling and this was a very authentic story of Inquisition Spain, but I have read a number of books like this and I'm well acquainted with the history. So unfortunately, there were no surprises for me here. I actually thought The Last Jewby Noah Gordon, which I read earlier this month, was a more original book dealing with this period. ...more
Jessica Chen
Jul 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
By Fire, By Water is no ordinary historical. It tells a complex tale but manages to remain captivating from beginning to end. The characters were so real, I still feel their presence although I finished reading it a few days ago. The language is precise, evocative, rich. This is a book I will read again - that is if I can get it back from my friend who snatched it from me as soon as I was done.
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book. Sad, heartbreaking and hard to read at times, filled with interesting characters set against the backdrop of an incredible period in history - a sad period and yet a pivotal one. I picked this book up on a whim and I am glad I did. Very well written, filled with history and engrossing.
Marie Burton
Apr 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, favorites
Mitchell James Kaplan has certainly tackled a complicated subject with his first novel in By Fire, By Water. It deals primarily with the Spanish Inquisition that was being sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella as it spread throughout Spain as they attempted to unify the kingdom of Spain. The story is being told through King Ferdinand's chancellor's eyes, Luis de Santangel, who was a converso himself. A converso was someone who was not trusted completely because of the fact they had once ...more
Sep 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One should probably not say they enjoyed a book about the Spanish Inquisition, but those are my thoughts exactly. I never read about the Inquisition before, but I had a general idea of what it was about. Mitchell's book only brings a small slice of the Inquisition to life, but what an interesting slice he chose.

The story takes place six years before the discovery of the Americas, a time of great upheaval in the Iberian peninsula. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand are currently waging a holy war
Jan 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 paranoi
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan; 4 Stars 4 16 Sep 23, 2018 01:12PM  
Jewish Book Club: By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan 1 17 Sep 16, 2018 10:54AM  
Who's that on the cover? 5 10 Aug 28, 2014 10:09AM  
An anti-gospel amongst us 1 5 Nov 26, 2013 06:43AM  
Warring faiths in Historical Fiction -- fascinating or "squirm-worthy"? 1 5 Nov 21, 2013 07:08AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • A Splendid Ruin
  • Big Girl, Small Town
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)
  • The Physician (Cole Family Trilogy, #1)
  • Simon the Fiddler
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Visual Companion
  • The Book of V.
  • The Scribe of Siena
  • The Ventriloquists
  • A Time to Remember (Rivenshaw, #1)
  • Send Judah First: The Erased Life of an Enslaved Soul
  • The Perfect Royal Mistress
  • Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta
  • A Village Life
  • Sogið (Children's House, #2)
  • Dragonfly
  • Summer (Seasonal, #4)
See similar books…
Mitchell James Kaplan is a cum laude graduate of Yale University, where he won the Paine Memorial Prize. His first mentor was author William Styron. Following college, he lived in Paris and Southern California. Currently he lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

​Mitchell James Kaplan's 2010 novel, By Fire, By Water, won numerous literary awards both domestically and abroad. Into The Unbou

Related Articles

  Mateo Askaripour is a Brooklyn-based writer whose debut novel, Black Buck—which Colson Whitehead calls a “mesmerizing novel, executing a high...
68 likes · 7 comments
“All people suffer,” said Judith. “But if you don’t know what you believe, you suffer alone.” 2 likes
More quotes…