Bottom Line: Interesting if historically inaccurate
“1481 Seville: The Inquisition makes its first appearance in Spain. Its target: conversos, Christians of Jewish descent – specifically those who practice Judaism secretly in their homes. The penalty for ‘crypto-Judaism’: Burning at the stake.Marisol Garcia, a young conversa, is hurriedly wed to Gabriel, a civil lawyer working for the Inquisition, in hopes that he will protect her. But she still yearns for the childhood love who abandoned her four years earlier, and she’s shocked when he reappears suddenly at her wedding.When her father is arrested and tortured, Marisol finds herself caught between her love for him and her desire to save the lives of her people. After becoming a favorite of the ruthless Queen Isabella, Marisol discovers a dangerous secret about her former lover, Antonio, and finds herself trapped in a life-threatening web of intrigue. As the Inquisition’s snares tighten around her, Marisol’s love for Antonio and loyalty to her Jewish family are tested as never before…”
Thoughts: Marisol Garcia has known nothing but the comfort of a loving well-to-do family and the luxuries that lifestyle provided. In spite of her converso heritage, her parents shelter her and provide her with love and all they can offer. When the veil is cruelly ripped from her eyes upon her mother’s tragic death, however, Marisol must make sense of the world into which she is thrust. Her marriage to Gabriel Hojeda, long-time neighbor and civil lawyer for the Inquisition, shows her not only the harshness of the world for conversos, but also a more dangerous world than she ever imagined, one in which a stranger can accuse someone of being a crypto-Jew with nothing more than a statement. Jeanne Kalogridis’ The Inquisitor’s Wife uses Marisol to highlight the terror of the age and the depths of man’s cruelty and intolerance.
From a historical perspective, The Inquisitor’s Wife is an excellent source of information. Marisol’s marriage affords her a unique perspective on some of the inside aspects of the Inquisition, from Hojeda’s initial plea to the Queen, to the growing unease of the conversos, to the royal edicts allowing anonymous denouncements, to Torquemada’s growing influence over the proceedings. Make no mistake, the proceedings are highly biased and draw upon every commonly-held belief about the Inquisition itself, but it still enlightening. While there are some scholars who belief that torture was not quite as wildly used as is believed, Ms. Kalogridis uses the torture scenes to highlight how hypocritical the entire proceedings were. The Spanish Inquisition and its fundamental tenets are some of the lowest points of Christianity, and most readers will be absolutely disgusted by the behavior of these professed men of God and their holy obligation to rid their towns of the “threat” of Judaism.
Against this very serious backdrop, historically inaccurate but still proving the point, Marisol is just too childish, unbelievably so. Ms. Kalogridis tries to explain this by the fact that her parents kept her completely sheltered from anything negative or dangerous as a measure of protection against the likelihood of an Inquisition questioning her mixed heritage. However, her reaction to her father’s decision to marry her to her anti-Semitic neighbor is too overdramatic given the time period. At times, she shows such fire and backbone, but when things get tough, she relies on her faithful childhood servant and the friendship of others to help her. Again and again, she finds herself in trouble because she does not listen to those who are trying to help her, instead preferring to do things her own way. Yes, she is young, but her reactions to troubling events and insistence on rushing into situations without knowing the full details of them maker her more like today’s whiny, self-obsessed teens than a teenager living during the Spanish Renaissance. The dangers in which she finds herself, because they are so often of her own doing, become tedious after a while, as she proves incapable of rescuing herself.
Still, even Marisol’s ineptness and overall annoying attitude cannot mar the fact that The Inquisitor’s Wife shines because of its historical details. The subject matter itself is sickening, but by highlighting the cruelty one human can bestow upon another, it becomes a profound learning experience for a reader. The ignorance and anti-Semitism mentioned in detail throughout the novel are no less despicable because they occurred over 400 years ago, as -except for the use of torture – it does not take a great stretch of the imagination to envision such hatred in today’s era. Ms. Kalogridis does a great job allowing readers to experience the intense fear and confusion the conversos must have felt upon hearing the royal edict creating the Inquisition tribunal and the Papal Bull approving this action. A reader may not be surprised at some of the story’s plot twists, and Marisol may be one of the weaker heroines in recent months, but the story is still intense and exciting. A fascinating plot can make even the weakest character more enjoyable, which is what happens here. In spite of all its faults, The Inquisitor’s Wife is a fast-paced thriller that will engage readers with its historical tidbits, allowing them to gloss over the feebler elements and still enjoy the story for what it is.