The Last Song

The Last Song
By Eva Wiseman
Published by Tundra
Published on April 10, 2012
Source: Netgalley

Summary from Goodreads:

Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.

Once again, master storyteller Eva Wiseman brings history to life in this riveting and tragic novel.

My thoughts...

I really wanted to like this book.  The premise takes an interesting, if horrific, time in history and looks at it through the eyes of teenaged Isabel.  I personally enjoy historical fiction, and the Inquisition is not a time that I am too well-versed in, so I thought that the book could be an interesting slice-of-life portrayal of what it was like for people trapped in between two worlds.  Even the cover caught my attention, a delicate drawing of a caged bird, done mostly in monochrome.

Unfortunately, much of the book seemed flat to me.  While the narration was often vivid and did well at setting the scene, the dialogue frequently felt stilted and unbelievable, even taking into account the fact that the story takes place hundreds of years in the past.  Many of the characters are very one-note and can be summed up very simply and see little development throughout the story.  They never really rise up to be more complex or have less of a caricature sort of portrayal.  Isabel is the daughter of a privileged family, Yonah is a charming boy who changes Isabel's mind about Jewish people, and so on.  Except for a few moments, the characters show little depth.  Characters have changes of heart about very important topics almost at the drop of a hat.  Isabel grew up believing that Jewish people were to be despised, but within days of learning that her family has Jewish roots, is breaking all sorts of rules to learn more about her newly adopted faith.  There are very few moments examining Isabel's inner conflict over the secrets she learned about her family.  I found many of Isabel's actions to be highly unbelievable -- even though she's a teenager and therefore probably prone to being more impulsive, she makes decisions that could be life-or-death for her family, with very little thought to the consequences.

The book was a very quick read and had some enjoyable moments, particularly when Isabel and Yonah first meet.  While their entire relationship is improbable and falls into the "insta-love"category, they share several sweet moments together when they are first introduced.   Younger teens would probably enjoy this book more than I did, as the writing is on a more simplistic level.   There is some violence -- you can't write a book about the Inquisition without touching on, well, the Inquisition -- and Isabel is betrothed to an older boy who is very cruel and abusive towards her.  I would be interested to see what an actual middle-grade reader (or reviewer who more frequently focuses on books for that age group) thought of the book.  I would recommend this book for younger teens who may be interested in this period of history who are not quite ready to tackle more adult texts on the subject.

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