By Fire, By Water

The historical novel By Fire, By Water  tells the heartbreaking story of Luis de Santangel, the courtier who convinced Queen Isabella to sponsor Christopher Columbus’s voyage of discovery in 1492. Combining a passionate love story with a religious mystery, By Fire, By Water closely follows historical events during a troubled time, when the medieval social order was collapsing. 

 12th “Adelina Della Pergola” Students' Choice Prize (Italian Edition) 

2011 Independent Publishers Book Award

Gold Medal / Historical Fiction

ForeWord Magazine Book Of The Year Award  (BOTYA) 

Bronze Medal, Historical Fiction

Amazon Kindle "Editor's Pick," November 2011 2010 Reviewer Pick           

"Blending artistry with intense drama and violence, BY FIRE, BY WATER... [is] so well done that it would be hard to imagine how it could be made better. It's rare to find historical fiction this intense and exquisite. The book is as touching to read as it is disturbing. Every detail is sharp and stunningly described." — Melanie Smith,

Goodreads Choice Award

One of Fifteen Nominees for Best Historical Novel

Chosen by 4,000,000 readers

New York Book Festival

Honorable Mention / Fiction - 2011


Honorable Mention / General Fiction



Jewish Communities of Philadelphia, Houston, Portland (OR), Northern New Jersey,

and the State of Delaware

2010 - 2011

"BY FIRE, BY WATER" one of the best books of the year:

Wendy Robards ("Caribou's Mom")
The Bookworm's Library Smith
Cat Book Magic
Debbie's World of Books
Knitting and Sundries
Historical Tapestry
Bippity Boppity Book
The Burton Review
Ima On and Off the Bimah
So Many Books, So Little Time

... and many others...

"[A] remarkably learned and heartbreaking romantic novel... It is astounding how much Kaplan fits in this accomplished debut novel -- describing assassinations, torture, theological discourse, ancient culture and politics, sex and love with a deft blend of straightforwardness and subtlety. Despite the unceasing brutality of their time, Kaplan's characters are shaded rather than all good or all evil. And despite its medieval setting, the story has contemporary echoes. Best of all, it's hard to put down. Beautifully executed, highly recommended." -- Pamela Miller, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Must take its place as one of the most important contemporary historical novels with a Jewish theme. One could also argue that its portrayal of religious and ethnic hatred in the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella (or, as Kaplan calls them, Fernando and Ysabel ) is a better way to understand the Jewish world today than the work of many of the hip, hyped young Jewish novelists clawing to the top of literary New York.” – Matt Beynon Rees in Ha'aretz (

"Mitchell Kaplan has crafted a masterpiece... Historical fiction simply doesn't get any better than this." – Beth Hoffman, author of Saving Ceecee Honeycutt

"[A] brilliant and poetic novel of decent people in a world gone mad... 
Author Mitchell James Kaplan writes with breathtaking poetry and compassion… A rich story, a wonderful book, a deeply feeling writer." – Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille

"[Mitchell Kaplan is] an enormously gifted writer. The language and narrative movement are graceful, impeccable, authentic, and a pleasure to read. The subject is a powerfully important one, one that has not been tackled well in past works. By Fire, By Water captures the reader immediately and... will have many readers." — award-winning poet Myra Sklarew, author of Over the Rooftops of Time

"Beautifully written, By Fire, By Water is a powerful story of religion, love and violence--timeless themes honed by Kaplan into an enthralling narrative that doesn't let up until the last sentence." — Simon Read, author of War of Words

"The love story between Santangel and Judith is beautiful and believable. It adds additional poignancy to an already strongly emotional tale. I suppose any story about the Spanish Inquisition is bound to be emotionally draining, but not every difficult story is as rewarding as By Fire By Water." Susan Coventry, author of The Queen's Daughter

“A lovely novel of the end of the world... a stunning debut.” – Christy English, author of “The Queen's Pawn”

“A beautiful tapestry... Despite its epic sweep, By Fire, By Water is also an intimate portrait of a remarkable individual...” – Tirdad Derakshani, Philadelphia Inquirer

“A grand novel that shows not only Kaplan's knack for storytelling, but also his eye for details and willingness to do extensive research.” – Rege Behe in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (

"Kaplan has done remarkable homework on the period and crafted a convincing and complex figure in Santángel in what is a naturally cinematic narrative and a fine debut." — Publishers Weekly

"Debut novelist Kaplan depicts a turbulent period in 15th-century Spain, focusing on the story of Aragon’s royal chancellor… Deftly moves through a complex web of personal relationships, religious zeal and political fervor."
— Kirkus Reviews

"[Kaplan's] portrayal of this remarkable man and woman and their struggles to reconcile their past with their future amidst a rising storm of persecution humanizes his tale; and his evocation of a troubled Spain at the crossroads of its own past and future is equally well drawn." — CW Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

"Kaplan's portrait of the political and personal problems facing a powerful converso courtier successfully evokes the religious and cultural complexity of Spain on the eve of Columbus' voyage and the expulsion of the Jews." -  Adam Shear, Professor of Medieval History, University of Pittsburgh and prize-winning author of The Kuzari and the Shaping of Jewish Identity, 1167-1900, Cambridge University Press, 2008 

""For the historical fiction lover especially, and for those who simply love an engaging, fast-paced story, this well-researched novel about the Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain is an absolute must-read."  -- The Dayton Jewish Observer 

"Kaplan’s knowledge of daily life in 15th-century Spain, as well as the political intrigues of the court and the church, make for an engrossing read... Real men and women rather than historical caricatures." — Patricia O'Sullivan, Historical Novels Review

"A heart wrenching tale told with  skill...Mitchell James Kaplan has effectively written a powerful story that I will always remember." —  Marie Burton, The Burton Review

"Kaplan's writing is exceptional, his intelligence and research on the subject superb. I look forward to reading many more of his books in the future." —  Amy Bruno, Passages to the Past

"A very moving and illuminating novel... based on a solid foundation of historical facts." 
— Layers of Thought (

"Meticulously researched… A story of a people, the conversos, searching for their history… Very literary… Historical fiction lovers will enjoy it for the numerous historical personas as well as descriptions of life in medieval Spain." — Arleigh Johnson,

"An historical novel of depth, passion and faith which held me spellbound. Big, passionate, brilliantly written, full of court intrigue and religious politics… Kaplan’s descriptions are gorgeous. He effortlessly transports the reader into the past." – Wendy Robards (

"This incredible book captured me... Is it a light read; no. Is it a happy story; sometimes. Is it an important story; yes." —

"Terrific." - Luke Ford,

"A gifted wordsmith and a story teller second to none." - Basia Or-Rafael, Michal'sTeffilin (

“Recreates a historical moment of vast and far-reaching changes as well as the complex personality of Santángel, the high government official who placed his hopes for redemption far beyond his society’s horizons.” - Reform Judaism Magazine (Fall, 2010)

“Kaplan's greatest success is in his ability to portray the inner lives of his characters.” - Washington Jewish Week (7/22/2010)
"A beautifully crafted novel… This book has it all - suspense, intrigue, religion, romance and history." Heather Smith,

"Kaplan writes in a vivid and fluid manner, his characters are realistic, the scenes at times almost too vividly described… A brilliant debut." Jennifer Higgins,

"The descriptions of places and people are vivid and real. You feel the love, hate, fear, paranoia, and sadness. It was like an emotional roller coaster that I couldn't get off!" - Kelsey's Book Coner

"I have read numerous novels set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition... None can compare with the power and beauty of By Fire, By Water... Not only is this book a vivid historical account of the time, it is also a beautifully composed love story that will take your breath away."

"Fast-paced and suspenseful." Kathleen Kelly, Celtic Lady's Reviews

"This book, the first novel by Mitchell James Kaplan, will stay with you a long time. If you like historical novels, this is for you. If you like religious history, this is for you. If you like character studies of complex people, some fictional, some historical, this is the ticket!" - Vicki Goode, The Goode Word (

"I can not believe this is Mitch Kaplan's first novel.  The time period is so intricate yet he weaves each of the conflicts together through the protagonist.  Without being superfluous, he describes the beauty of Spain, along with the architecture, in a visceral manner.  The story moves along succinctly yet includes all the necessary information to understand the conflict and history.  Kaplan is a screenwriter and, I swear, I heard the orchestra crescendo at the end of certain scenes.  The history is incredibly well researched." - A Musing Reviews

“A superb debut novel that contained everything I always hope to find in historical fiction... Obviously well-researched, a beautifully written, powerful and moving story... Has definitely earned a place on my 10 Best Historical Fiction list.” – Tell Me A Story (

"This book is a gem; meticulously researched, but written in such a fashion that you are drawn in almost from the first... 
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction, to anyone who loves to read about historical events, to anyone who loves a family story, a love story, a story of conflict .. I think that covers about all of us. Oh!  and did I mention?  This is a DEBUT novel - and a glorious one."  - Julie Smith, Knitting and Sundries  

“Kaplan has done an immense amount of research with By Fire, by Water, never overloading the reader with facts and details, but skillfully interweaving them so the reader is taken along on this enchanting story with actual events, as well as learning a lot on fifteenth century Spain, and this fractious period in history.” – Alex C. Telander, Book Banter

“Kaplan left me feeling that his research on the Spanish Inquisition  was sound and extensive... I really enjoyed this book!” – The Book Whisperer

This book was so well written and the topic, although gruesome at times, was beautifully depicted.  This story also pointed out my lack of knowledge about Spain's history, and that of the Muslims too.  I totally enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading more from this amazing writer.” - 

A great and absorbing read.” - Raging Bibliomania (

Mitchell Kaplan's By Fire, By Water is... a perfect historical novel... There isn't a dull moment, the writing is lyrical and almost every sentence engaging.” Reading Extravaganza (

I'd recommend it to... anyone who likes a good story well told.” Boston Bibliophile (

This is a great book, historically and imaginatively... Kaplan is a poetic writer whose characters are interesting and deep, and he gives you enough history and authenticity without overdoing the details. There's a love story in there, too, very sweet and poignant.” - Mary Burns, author of “J – The Woman Who Wrote the Bible”

"Loved it. Mr. Kaplan’s story transported me to another time and place." -- The Printed Page (

“This book was like no other book I have ever read.” — Heather Rieseck, The Maiden’s Court

"Mitchell James Kaplan has done what incredible historical fiction does best -- he has centered a story around a monumental event in history, attached to it etched-in-time real people, and crafted a meaningful and captivating tale of life in the late 14th century. There is terror, betrayal, love, and most especially, loss. And my heart absolutely broke in two at the end.  I highly recommend this book and am excited to read more from this author."- Coffee And A Book Chick,

"Well researched, and beautifully told. What more can a reader ask for? This book captivated me from beginning to end." --

"I found By Fire, By Water to be an incredibly satisfying historical novel.  It was dark, but it held me spellbound as the tale of Santangel unravelled.  I would definitely recommend it." --

"Utterly absorbing and interesting... Tremendous detail... The writing serves to help immerse the reader into the atmosphere in which the story is set, with the sights and sounds almost seeping out of the pages... Highly recommended – fantastically researched, very well written and fascinating." --

"An enlightening read." At Home With Books (,+by+water)

"You easily get caught up in the narrative, at times forgetting this is historical fiction." As I Turn the Pages (

"I simply couldn’t put the book down. Powerfully moving... haunting...  a truly talented author." The Bookworm's Library (

"Kaplan’s rendering of Santángel reminded me of Thomas Cromwell, flawed star of ‘Wolf Hall’, Hilary Mantel’s literary juggernaut... In Kaplan’s assured hands... Santángel is also an intriguing character, tortured by his love and the consequences of his beliefs...‘By Fire, By Water’ makes for compulsive reading with its lucid prose and strong characters, in a narrative where the research never overpowers the story." Bookblah (

"I immensely liked this novel. 5/5 stars." Caught Between the Pages (

"Kaplan is a great storyteller, but he also is a fantastic writer. At points I stopped reading and read paragraphs again to enjoy the beauty of the language." Laura's Reviews (

"In By Fire, By Water, sincerest motives are questioned, weakened, strengthened, and defied until the 'mob rule' of terror spins out of control, leaving all to mourn, remember, question, defy, deepen, and celebrate the precious gift of faith held at such an appalling cost." – Jewish Book World (Winter, 2010-2011)

"A great novel and I think a great historical novel too... Please, pick it up and read it." -- Erica Hopper (

“Kaplan is a born writer, with his eloquent writing style drawing you in from page one... Bursting at the seams with intricate detail... The characters... are so rich and layered. Santangel is one hell of a protagonist.  There are so many layers and depths to him.   You think you know how he is feeling and what kind of reaction he’ll have and then BAM you get hit with another layer. The character of Judith is one of the only people in the story who didn’t exist in real life.  You’d never know it!  Kaplan gives her a fantastic back story that rivals that of the actual real life stories of the other characters)...” Reflections of a Book Addict

“I was swept away by the characters and their stories... I was amazed that Kaplan's first book could be such a beautiful blend of fact and story...” Susan Heim (

“One of the many reasons why I enjoyed this book so much was that it actually made me think... Kaplan did an outstanding job telling both sides of the story... This was a great read that really opened my eyes... A definite must-read.” Taylor Ward (

“I love language, and here the language really shines through. He has written a book that echoes times gone by. Words alone cannot do justice to this book.” Books For Life (

“I was fascinated by the events in this novel, shuddering at quite a few of them.  Mr. Kaplan writes with great skill... I would recommend By Fire, By Water to anyone who is interested in reading about powerful events that have shaped our current world and the people who have helped shape them... By Fire, By Water is an excellent debut novel by Mitchell James Kaplan.” Curling Up By The Fire (

"The characters are multidimensional and human, as prone to selfishness, debauchery or apathy as they are to heroism or spirituality... By Fire, By Water is an ambitious and nuanced exploration of national, religious and personal identity." Devorah Isenberg, Hadassah Magazine (

"This book really opened my eyes... The author’s attention to detail is incredible... Everything felt very realistic and believable. I read most of this book in one day because I was so desperate to find out what would happen to Santángel, Judith and the other characters." ( 

"This was a dark and moving novel filled with memorable characters... Columbus became a flesh and bone person for me while I was reading; something my school books never quite accomplished...  I really lost myself in the descriptions and dramas that unfolded and found myself thinking about the book during times when I wasn't reading it.  Images from the book found a place inside of my head and refused to come out.  It was a beautifully lyrical book and I am looking forward to seeing what Mitchell James Kaplan will do next." (

"Fascinating... So good that I finished it almost in one go..." (

"Excellent." -- Morton I. Teicher (

"What a great debut from Kaplan! I truly enjoyed this and couldn’t put it down.Can’t wait to read more from this author!
5/5" -- Book Ramblings.

"Wow....that's what I think...WOW!! Never in a million years would I say that historical fiction about the New Inquisition during the Medieval times would be intriguing, but I have to say that Kaplan wrote a book that had me turning the pages late into the night and wanting to get up at the crack of dawn to start reading again. The author's writing is so vivid and intense that I felt as if I was walking along side the characters... Recommend? A resounding YES! I'm still in awe that this is Kaplan's first novel. He has a great future ahead of him and I so can't wait to get my hands on his next novel. This is one of the best historical fiction books that I've read in the past couple of years. Do yourself a this one!!!
Rating: 10/10" -- Staci Taylor

“By Fire, By Water contains many well-crafted phrases and much interesting information, but its greatest merit is in demonstrating parallels between a notorious period in human history and disturbing developments in modern life.” —Pittsburgh Quarterly 

“A well-crafted, poignant story of one man's journey of self-discovery and survival; beautifully written with a simple, yet elegant style, and a subtle attention to detail that immerses the senses in fifteenth century Spain.” – Jenny Q

"Less than 36 hours [after I started reading "By Fire, By Water"], it was finished (who needs sleep when you have a good book!) 'Good book'... so inadequate a phrase to describe this book!" HodgepodgeSPV,

"The lyrical prose is ample motivation to linger through the pages. Why Mitchell James Kaplan’s By Fire, By Water is not on the top ten of all historical fiction lists is incomprehensible. If you read just one book this year, I highly recommend that it is this one." -- Irene Yeates, Author Exposure,

"One of the best books I have read this year.  The writing was absolutely beautiful; Kaplan's descriptions are amazing and he makes it seem as though you can hear and see what is going on in the story." --  So Many Books, So Little Time

"Luis de Santangel... was complex, intelligent, and always questioning himself... I also enjoyed reading about Judith and the issues she faced. This is a very impressive first book." -- The Book Garden

"If you only ever read one historical fiction novel, I would recommend it be By Fire, By Water." -- Chaos, Coffee, and a Bookshelf

Luis de Santangel

Fanciful 19th c. portrait of Luis de Santangel. 
No authentic, contemporary portrait oSantangel 
exists. Artist unknown.

Suspected of heresy by the Spanish Inquisition, accused of complicity in the murder of the chief inquisitor of Aragon, Luis de Santangel must choose between his identity and the woman he loves. My intent is not only to tell the gripping and poignant tale of one man’s travails in a time of cultural upheaval, but also to shed light on some of the most important issues of our present age.

Judith Migdal

A Street in Granada, Spain 

The aunt of Luis de Torres, Christopher Columbus's official "translator," Judith answers heart-wrenching loss by taking on more responsibility for her own well-being and for those whom she loves. Her challenge is to see beyond the limits of her identity without sacrificing all that is most dear to her.

Alhambra Castle, Granada

La Convivencia

For centuries, following the Muslim invasion in 711 AD, the Spanish peninsula was home to one of the most successful multi-cultural experiments in history. Ideas flowed freely between Islamic, Jewish, and Christian thinkers. Little by little, over eight centuries, the forces of intolerance gained ground over this convivencia. Finally, in 1492, it all came crashing to an end.

Christopher Columbus aboard a tiny boat, beseeching the queen in a rather familiar manner. King Ferdinand stands beside his wife. Next to the king is Juan Perez de Marchena, prior of La Rabida, where Columbus's son Diego resided. No authentic contemporary portrait  of Columbus exists. Artist unknown.

Letter From India

My name is Ranjana, and I work with Friends Of Books, an online bookstore out of India. We have recently added a book written by you to our catalog. I am writing to request you to please add a link (from your webpage as a possible option in India where these books can be purchased. Here is the link to your book on our store:

    Saint Dominic Presiding Over an Autodafe, c. 1495 by Pedro Berruguete