Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: ages 9+
Rating (out of 5): 3
The Story (in 5 sentences or less): Growing up in his Uncle Diego’s house in 15th century Spain, Baltasar often heard stories of the famous Moorish warrior-sorcerer Amir Al-Katib. Thinking them to be nothing but stories, Baltasar is deeply confused when he is picked up by the Malleus Maleficarum, an arm of the Inquisition devoted to hunting sorcerers, and interrogated as to the whereabouts of Al-Katib. During his interrogation, he finds that he also possesses magical powers, capable of summoning creatures from ancient stories. Searching for answers, Baltasar discover’s that he is in fact the son of Al-Katib and that he must journey west to fight an evil that “threatens to destroy the world.” Baltasar procures a position on the Santa Maria, captained by Christobal Colun, on which he will sail towards the west, across the ocean in search of his father and the answers to his past.
My Take: This is a book, much like A Wrinkle In Time, of a character searching for their father. I give high marks to Mlawski for creating a multi ethnic protagonist who is searching for answers to their heritage. This theme seems apt as much today as it was back in 1492. One criticism is that as the book progresses, as more and more characters are introduced, I felt like some of them were redundant. Was it necessary to encounter two island tribes? Could not the character of Catalina be completely stricken and make for a tighter book? Consequently, the final third of the book feels heavily weighted to me, and there were moments where I had to slow down to keep everyone straight.
One interesting note about the author: According to her website, Shana has read every Goosebumps and Baby-sitters Club book! Quite a feat indeed!