4 June 2011

Review 28: Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin

This is the gripping story of Saulo and Zarita in fifteen century Spain during the Inquisition. It covers religion, explorers, revenge, family and more through its engaging two main characters and is a worthy addition to the Carnegie shortlist.

Zarita is the daughter of the local magistrate; confident, pampered and wealthy. Saulo is the son of a beggar and his dying wife. One day, Saulo's father begs money from Zarita; when Saulo's father touches her arm he is chased down by her chaperon and then executed immediately by Zarita's father. Saulo sees it all happen and swears his revenge on the magistrate and his family; this revenge is however put on hold as he is sold into slavery on a ship when he is caught watching the execution. Zarita, meanwhile, has to deal with the Inquisition arriving in his town with the malicious Father Besain.
Both characters are appealing and realistic as they grow up and realise what it means to be an adult. Zarita, in particular, matures a lot as she learns that actions have consequences and she has to try and deal with the guilt she feels over what happens to Saulo's father. When the Inquisition arrives, she struggles to control her emotions and find the balance between integrity and self-protection. The events are even more chilling as we know that these things really happened to people. Breslin very effectively evokes the mood of a town  full of fear where neighbours turn on each other and no-one can be trusted. When Zarita's father remarries a woman not much older than Zarita who is jealous of Zarita's place in her fathers affections, Zarita is sent to live with her role model aunt who is a nun in her self-created convent where they preach love and care regardless of religion.

Meanwhile Saulo grows up on a ship and escapes his slave status through a run in with some pirates. Along the way he meets one Christopher Columbus who instils in him a sense of adventure whilst Saulo remains intent on his quest for revenge. The book is very fast moving, an enormous amount happens, especially in the first half of the novel although it's hardy slow-moving at the end. Zarita and Saulo re-encounter each other at the royal court and do not recognise each other as the novel moves towards its climax; any more details will give away too much about how Zarita and Saulo reach the end.

The sense of injustice throughout the novel will ring true with teenagers; both the individual injustices and the mass scale of the Inquisition. The sense of one teenager against the world is a familiar feeling for most young people so despite the fifteenth-century Spanish setting, the characters of the Zarita and Saulo encounter familiar emotions despite unfamiliar settings to modern teenagers.

Prisoner of the Inquisition is a wonderful novel; intellectual but also fun, fast-moving yet thoughtful. It has some fairly dark moments, Breslin doesn't shy away from the realities of the Inquisition and there are some upsetting moments but teenagers shouldn't shy away from this superb novel.

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