“My uncle’s meaningful stare pierced right through me. “Dashed off, leaving a child in my arms.” By that time in my life, I’d heard enough fairy tales to know what a sentence like that meant. Until then, though, I’d never known what it felt like to be part of such a story. The end of my uncle’s tale was so obvious, so inevitable, and yet I could hardly believe the words.”
Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski is all about stories: fairy tales, religious texts, and history. She takes what we know of Columbus’ voyage to America and uses it as the backdrop about a boy learning the power of words, and the magic behind the meaning of stories. It’s a good book.
Historical fantasy is not a genre I have read before. The heroic tale of Columbus that I learned in school was soured by the brutal reality when I learned about that same voyage as an adult. After her fictional tale ends, Mlawski takes several pages to explain what parts in the book were based on historians best guesses of what really happened, and what she played around with for the sake of a good yarn. I’m impressed with how much truth she wove into a story filled with witches, genies, and magic!
Set in 1492 Spain, Baltasar Infante is our hero, and he’s an optimistic, chatty teen boy with multiple layers to his own story; a story he learns about slowly as the book progresses. Baltasar has grown up under the threat of the Malleus Maleficarum, a mysterious witch-hunting arm of the Spanish Inquisition. His parents were Christian converts, once Jews, but killed by the Inquisition. Yet he learns that he is part Muslim as well. This blending of faiths, and the stories they hold, is a source of conflict and ultimately strength for Baltasar. But this is not a book about religion, it’s a book of adventure and magic.
Through a series of events, Baltasar must go on the run to avoid the Malleus Maleficarum, and to destroy or be destroyed by the hero-turned-traitor Amir al-Katib. He joins Columbus’ crew to find a new sea passage to Cathay. Baltasar learns that he has the magic to summon creatures at will, but only creatures from stories he knows, and to summon them takes an intimate understanding of the truths within them. Yet, he learns there are many interpretations to the same story, and many truths that can be hard to accept. But he has a genie named Jinniyah to help him, and eventually a cool friend named Catalina, a fellow magic user.
Mlawski’s prose is fluid and colorful. The characters grow, and the story is unique within the setting of familiar history. I am always interested in new takes on magic, and the idea of understanding tales as the source of power really appealed to me. I recommend Hammer of Witches for junior high and up.
GeekMom received this item for review purposes.