The Apprentice's Masterpiece

Patty Osborne

Everything I know about the Spanish Inquisition I learned from a young adult novel by Melanie Little that is written in free verse. The Apprentice’s Masterpiece (Annick Press) is narrated by two boys—Ramon, a boy from a family of conversos (Jews who have converted to Catholicism, perhaps for self-preservation), and Amir, his Muslim servant. Each makes difficult choices in order to survive the deadly intolerance of a Spain ruled by Queen Isabella, a fanatical Christian. In this time of book burnings, torture and mass expulsions, an impulsive act by Ramon forces Amir to flee for his life. Meanwhile, Ramon must decide whom to ally himself with to protect himself and his parents. There is so much history in this book, and so many layers of distrust and uneasy alliances, that one might expect the story to lag. But somehow the poetry fills in enough background information while at the same time jumping through time and place without losing the reader. The result is a gripping tale that will enthrall readers of any age, with enough parallels in the modern world to make it a timely story.

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