I have always been curious about the Spanish Inquisition and so, reading Blood Libel was bound to pique my interest, especially as a lover of historical fiction. And I wasn’t disappointed as Lynes carefully creates the oppressive and threatening atmosphere of medieval religious persecution and the effect it has on the world of his protagonist Isaac Alvarez, and his family.
Set in medieval Seville, there has been a murder, a gruesome one where a child has been killed and Isaac’s childhood friend has been implicated. Faced with the prospect of standing by his friend or placing his family in danger, Lynes puts Isaac into an unenviable position and one that depicts the claustrophobic intensity of the 15th century where a survivalist attitude had to be adopted to ensure safety.
Isaac’s position is also in jeopardy because he is a converso, a Jew who has converted to Catholicism to avoid religious persecution; however, suspicion may still fall on him for this, never mind that he is still practicing his Jewish faith in secret.
Knowing these facts about Isaac and understanding that the Inquisition in the form of its head, Torquemada is an enemy who is ruthless in the pursuit of those who flout the rules of the Catholic church means that the book is brimming with tension; a sense that as time progresses, the room that Isaac has to be able to protect himself and his family is becoming less and less and they are in grave danger.
Historically, Lynes shows adeptly the way that politics and religion often went hand-in-hand in medieval society, further providing an added element of difficulty to Isaac’s troubles as do the suspicions and questions that Isaac’s daughter Isabel has at home.
In terms of structure, the book has two narrative strands: the first is that of Alonso, a priest under orders from the Inquisition leader Torquemada,; Alonso’s musings and thoughts are conveyed through his confessional journal in the first person. The second is a third person narrative which follows Isaac and his interactions with his family, the King and others. Sometimes, I can find the switching between narrative perspectives interrupts the flow of my read but that was not the case here, the transition between them being effortless.
This is a good read as Lynes has great storytelling ability and a clear writing style. I would not hesitate to read him in future.
This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC.