Review Blog

Dec 21 2010

Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin

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Doubleday, 2010. ISBN 978 0385617031.
(Ages 12+) Historical fiction. Indulged and spoilt, used to getting her won way, Zarita's behavior causes the hanging of a poor man who tried to ask her for money. His son is taken away to be a galley slave, and Zarita, finding her mother has died, tries to make some sort of amends by seeking out the boy's mother and making her final days more comfortable. We are plunged into a world of Isabella and Ferdinand of fifteenth century Spain, intent not only of joining their two large provinces, but also to join all parts of Spain to make a one country. One way to do this is to rid Spain of any believers who do not espouse the one true faith, Catholicism. The Inquisition is revived and makes it way through many areas of Spain, torturing and killing as it sweeps all before it.
It is an horrific period of history to write about, and Breslin certainly makes the reader feel part of this, with the inquisitors torturing innocent people to scare the rest of the village, or the boy, Saulo, on a galley seeing people brutalized to row the ship and then being embroiled in a fight to the death with pirates. He escapes his servitude through intelligence and cunning, and is saved by none other than Christopher Columbus, intent on sailing west across the Ocean Sea (Atlantic Ocean) to find a way around the world. One highly charged incident follows the other, as the lives of the two protagonists, the spoilt girl and the beggar's son intersect.
Columbus has gone to the court to seek permission from Isabella and Ferdinand, Zarita is there to beg innocence in the wake of her step mother's accusations, Saulo is there to seek revenge upon his dead parents and the dreaded inquisitor is there too, ready to hunt down any more idolaters, with Zarita in his sights. The stage is set for the thrilling climax.
The over riding idea of the misuse of power by leaders using religious intolerance for their own ends resonates through the novel as the dreaded Torquemada and his minions ply their nasty trade. The power of intolerance seeps through everything, terrifying everyone and forcing people do behave in ways foreign to them.
Fran Knight

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