A young man struggles against family, church and state to find love and a life of his own.
In Wagner’s debut historical novel, Spain’s Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand are waging war to reclaim the country from Portugal and the Moors. In the process, they expel Muslims and Jews and seek to establish a nation of pure blood. In this context of war, racism and religious fervor, a young man named Casiano comes of age with difficulty. Born with a birthmark interpreted to be the mark of Satan to a Christian mother in a Muslim household, the child doesn’t have the odds in his favor. Competition between Casiano and his half brother, Juan Diego, dominates Casiano’s childhood. While the half brothers are riding through treacherous passes, a pig charges them, startles Juan Diego’s horse and sends Juan Diego plummeting over a cliff to his death. From that point on, Casiano labors under the presumption of guilt for the loss and under the enmity of his stepfather. He is imprisoned but eventually taken in by monks. He falls in love with a Jewish converso named Perla, and he fights in the many battles that rage at the time. He also fights for the life of Perla, who is nearly burned at the stake for heresy. Eventually, Casiano and Perla set out to make a life for themselves free from the oppression of church and state. Wagner’s well-researched novel brings the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella to life. The story is a little slow paced at times, and the dialogue can be stiff, sounding more like that of a period-piece drama than natural speech, a danger in historical novels. The novel also has some predictable plot elements. Nonetheless, Wagner’s novel rises above these limitations. It’s a lively, historically detailed narrative, filled with well-rounded characters. Readers of historical fiction interested in the time period will find much to enjoy.
A tale of war, love and religious strife by a promising new novelist.