Monday, April 29, 2013

The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little

Fifteenth-century Spain is one of the most enlightened cultures on record -- one in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians coexist within an atmosphere of respect. Then the zealous Queen Isabella enacts policies that put an abrupt end to the peace. Violence, mistrust, and intolerance shadow everyone as the Spanish Inquisition takes shape. In this fear-filled atmosphere, fifteen-year-old scribe Ramon Benveniste must hide the family's secret. They are conversos: Jews converted to Christianity.

One day a young man is delivered to the door. Amir wears the robe and red patch of a Muslim. Soon, both Ramon and Amir are caught up in dramatic events they cannot escape.

Little's elegant verse breathes life into memorable characters and captures the turbulence of the period. Drawing on extensive research, she has crafted brilliant, inescapably real story about one of the most politically complex and troubling times in human history.

The plight of Amir, Ramon, and his family is a powerful reminder of the importance of examining the past.

~Print copy (from the library), 409 pages
Published: 2008 by Annick Press

You can kind of tell this is a powerful book by their use of the word "inescapably" up there in the summary. I've never heard a book described with that word, but it fits.

I picked up this book from my school library with a strange feeling. It's not a big book, but it has a weight to it: a feeling that this book contains something very important. It's the sort of feeling I might expect to find if I pick up an ancient tome that reveals the secrets of the universe.

Before you call me a romantic, fantasy-stuffed daydreamer, that feeling proved to be a factor in my reading this. That sort of feeling makes you want to read it, but I was still reluctant. I didn't really want to read 400 pages of dense, historical, important and weighty material.

It didn't turn out that way, though. This is a verse novel. Not what I was expecting, but it suits this book perfectly. It is still weighty and meaningful, but it not so dense and unenjoyable. In fact, it was quite deep. It really changes the way you look at things.

(And, in case you're like me, the 15th century means the 1400s. Specifically, this takes place about 1485-1490, thereabouts.)

This book is told in three parts: the first in Ramon's POV, the 2nd in Amir's, and the 3rd back in Ramon's (four years later). As I said, written in verse; it reads and looks like freestyle poetry. I've always admired verse novels. To fit a whole story in those scarce stanzas, I think modern literature should be proud.

Anyways, the book itself tells of the Spanish Inquisition, and two boys caught up in it. Of course, the Spanish Inquisition was more like three centuries long, much too long for them to be caught up in the whole Inquisition, or even in the starting of it.

Ramon is kind of selfish in the first part. He changes in the third, after an event. But Amir is a slave, given as a gift to Ramon's family by some wealthy client. Ramon hates Amir at first sight; poor scribes have no need for a slave, and Amir is only another mouth to feed.

I don't really want to mention everything else. It's too tied to the ending. But trust me, it's some good stuff.

Anyways, the plot is very thoughtful. Amir and Ramon push things along, not just a product of the plot as you see in some books. Events and characters are equal culprits in this plot.

Overall, it's a good read. I'm glad I read it; it changed how I viewed things. Before, Isabella and Ferdinand were the monarchs who gave Chris Columbus aid to Sail the Ocean Blue. Now, the monarchs are the distant masterminds of an Inquisition that destroys lives.

I didn't know whether to give this a four or a five, honestly. I decided a 4.5, which rounds up to 5 stars. I really would recommend this to most people, but most especially if you love history being brought to life.


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