Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt
Author: Donald Michael Platt
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 17th Century / Spain / Inquisition / Court Intrigue / Religious Orders / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Judaism)
Publisher/Publication Date: Raven’s Wings Books (9/26/2011)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: The story of a charismatic young man in 17th century Spain, who gains prestige and power as a priest with the Spanish royal court.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I don't.
First line: El jorobado, the hunchback, reached under his tattered cloak and gripped the hilt of his dagger.
Why did I get this book?: I was interested in the setting -- you don't often see that in historical fiction!
Review: This immense novel clocks in at nearly 400 pages and is set among the tumultuous, violent, vibrant world of 17th century Spain. Growing up amidst a culture obsessed with limpieza de sangre, or the 'purity' of one's background, our hero Vicente de Rocamora juggles the truth of his heritage with his ambitions -- and that of his family.
The feel of the novel is like Margaret George meets Emilio Salgari: meaty, weighty, huge, enormously detailed, with a kind of swashbuckling hero and a melodramatic setting.
Unsure of his own heritage and his limpieza de sangre, a teenaged Vicente is forced by his very vile relatives to become Dominican priest. His nautral intelligence and curiosity give him wisdom and the foresight to grab opportunities when they come; his natural charisma leads him to ladies. Becoming confessor to the King's sister, Infanta Maria (later the Empress of Austria), Vicente uses his influence and stature to get revenge on those who betrayed him and to wrest control of the Inquisition, hoping to put an end to the outrageous torture and stifling effect religion had on Spanish society. (And there is torture in this one -- I sometimes found it hard to read!)
All this might seem pretty over-the-top, but Vicente de Rocamora is a real historical figure, whose life is the stuff of novels. Platt has clearly done his research: every page drips with details of the era, and the effect is almost overwhelming. (It is undoubtedly educational.)
There's a real saga-like feel to this one, too, as if we've followed Vicente his whole life, although the book only covers 26 years -- 1617 to 1643. I think the book could have used a little tightening and some editing down, but overall, it's a pretty grand historical adventure.
Also, this book has the most amazing conclusion -- jaw-dropping, cinematic, really -- and makes for a fine ending or cliffhanger, depending on your mood. (Which, if you find it to be cliff-hanger-y, you'll be happy: there's a sequel!)
There are three pages of historical notes, and opens with a summary of the rest of Vicente's life, so if you plan to read the sequel, considering skipping down the page. There's info on the value of money during the era as well as an extensive cast list (helpful for keeping everyone straight!).