An engaging, magical adventure set against the historical backdrop of Columbus’ westward voyage.
Young Baltasar, a converso (a Spanish Jew converted to Catholicism), relies on his wits to distract the village bully by telling an amusing tale. Soon after, Bal discovers his storytelling has magical properties when he summons a monster to ward off the Malleus Maleficarum, witch-hunting Inquisitors after Bal’s father. Intent on escaping and finding the father he thought dead, Bal is hired as translator on none other than the Santa Maria, captained by Columbus himself. The voyage takes Bal on the uncharted seas of Columbus’ famous voyage and into adventures that include sea beasts and secrets from Bal’s own past. Though keeping track of all the Spanish-named seamen can be a challenge, Mlawski’s central characters—Jinniyah, a genie Bal summons, and Catalina, a fellow storyteller, in addition to Bal himself—are imaginative and well-developed, and her swashbuckling pace and intriguing plotting keep readers at seat’s edge. This story is told entirely from Bal’s perspective, but by placing him on the Santa Maria and inside the Caribbean villages the expedition visits, Mlawski invites young readers to see the familiar Columbus story from another perspective—and to consider the power of stories to shape perception in everyday life. Backmatter includes a helpful author’s note and pronunciation guide.
Though set in the 1490s, this provocative blend of fantasy and history offers loads of contemporary appeal. (Historical fantasy. 11-15)