Liss (The Twelfth Enchantment, 2011, etc.) delves into a bitter corner of history to chronicle the tale of a young man trapped in the Portuguese Inquisition.
It’s 1755, and Sebastian Foxx, born Sebastião Raposa, sails from London to Lisbon. "In Portugal, the Inquisition continued unabated and deadly, pervasive and merciless." Sebastian had been sent to England a decade previously, when he was 13. His parents, "New Christians" (forcibly converted Jews), fell victim to the Inquisition. Sebastian wants revenge, and he particularly wants to kill Father Pedro Azinheiro, all "youthful face and disarming smile." With detailed descriptions of gritty 18th-century life, the book never stumbles through anachronisms or artificial-sounding dialogue. Liss creates an Escape From New York–like narrative after the 1755 Great Earthquake, with Lisbon, a city of "peculiar charm and strange beauty," reduced to rubble, rape and rampage. Sebastian also wants to help Charles Settwell, an English trader who smuggled him out of Portugal and whom he now finds impoverished. Settwell blames the machinations of English traders Rutherford and Roberta Carver. Sebastian decides to recoup Settwell’s fortune, but the further he proceeds, the more duplicity he uncovers, even on the part of his old friend Inácio, now the leader of a gang of miscreants. Liss focuses the romantic narrative thread on an unconsummated love between Sebastian and Roberta, which is the least satisfying portion of the novel. Trained as a "thief taker" by Benjamin Weaver (hero of other Liss works), Sebastian is driven by angst and anger—"[m]y broken soul was made for this. I was a devil and this was the pit." There is much derring-do as he brings Azinheiro to justice, copes with secrets, and arranges escapes to London for friends and foes alike.
Historical fiction buffs will enjoy an action-packed adventure in an unusual setting.