The Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Columbus and the Inquisition all feature in the story of Saulo and Zarita, brought together by violence and death. Zarita, praying for her mother dying in childbirth, accuses a beggar of assaulting her which leads to his death by her father’s order, witnessed by his son, Saulo, who vows vengeance. Zarita’s guilt is compounded by her father’s quick re-marriage and then the visit of Father Besian of the Inquisition to the quiet town where quickly neighbour is set against neighbour. Meanwhile Saulo goes to sea to escape and by chance meets Christopher Columbus who takes him under his wing as he is so interested in maps and exploration. Columbus, convinced the world is round, not flat, travels to Granada, under siege by Ferdinand and Isabella, to petition for funds to further his project. Saulo wreaks his revenge on Zarita’s father. Zarita, having been sent to a convent, hears of her father’s death and that Lorena, her stepmother, has performed her own act of vengeance. Zarita finds herself at Granada accused of heresy by the Inquisition.
This complicated plot is played out in short bursts in the voices of Saulo and Zarita which makes for confusion for the reader as the breaks are not always in the best place.
The fear that the Inquisition brought in its wake is well described, showing how quickly a seemingly united community can turn one against the other while the enthusiasm of Christopher Columbus for his theory that the world is round is almost catching. However, Saulo’s chance meeting with him, being rescued at sea, is a step too far and it is difficult to believe that Zarita would fall headlong in love with the young man who she knew caused her father’s death. Death by burning at the stake is chillingly pictured at the beginning and the end of the book. It seems to this reviewer that there is a better book within this story with perhaps fewer dramas and one voice. Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella, and the Inquisition crowd the narrative which thereby lacks the impact these subjects deserve.