Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #4: The Apprentice’s Masterpiece January 17, 2010

I wanted to stick with my historical fiction streak, but wanted something a little different.  So I picked up Melanie Little’s book, The Apprentice’s Masterpiece: A Story of Medieval Spain.

I forget where I tracked this one down.  I do remember, however, being snagged by two things in particular.   First, the cover: despite its muted and somewhat mottled appearance, the hooded falcon on the cover is striking, as is the font of the title (it incorporates three religious symbols within the print–a Jewish star, a Christian cross, and the crescent moon and star symbol often associated with Turkish Moors/Muslims.)

Second, it’s a verse novel.  With verse novels becoming more and more popular, I decided to give it a go.


The Apprentice’s Masterpiece by Melanie Little

Annick Press, 2008

Courtesy of

From School Library Journal

Grade 8 Up—In this novel set in 15th-century Spain at the time of the Inquisition, prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance destroy the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The effects of this dismal history are dramatized in this story of two teens—Ramon, a Converso or converted Jew, and Amir, a Muslim who has been brought as a slave to Ramon’s family. Written in prose poetry, the story’s focus shifts from Ramon to Amir and then back to Ramon. Amir is treated by the Benvenistes as another son, making Ramon jealous and straining the relationship between them. Each teen has to make compromises in order to survive, and Ramon’s choice estranges him from his father. Both protagonists demonstrate their courage as they struggle against the mortal danger in which they are placed. This riveting story is peopled by flesh-and-blood characters and replete with horrific historical detail. The challenging format renders it most appropriate for strong readers. This selection would be a good companion to Alice Hoffman’s Incantation (Little, Brown, 2006) and Kathryn Lasky’s Blood Secret (HarperCollins, 2004).—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I was torn on this one.  I did like it.  I think my reactions to it are more related to personal preference than any real problem with the book itself.  I am still waffling about verse novels.  As a former teacher of English, I fully respect them, particularly with their power to engage struggling readers.  I don’t necessarily agree completely with the assessment of School Library Journal (see above) that labels the format as “challenging.”  Unique?  Yes.  Different?  Yes.  But I don’t reserve the format for “strong readers.”  It was definitely a fast read.  But it isn’t for everyone.

That being said…

First and foremost, historical material.  I’ve seen a lot of books about witch trials.  This is one of VERY few YA books I’ve found about the Spanish Inquisition.  For that reason alone I loved it.  It was a smooth, almost effortless read.  Two very memorable protagonists–one of which makes some un-herolike decisions.  Again, we see my predilection for deliciously flawed characters.

Potential Flaws:
I felt that the book seemed a little predictable at first.  Plot-wise, the friction between the two main characters was expected.  The plot was trending where I expected it to go–and that was starting to lose me.  However, a sidestep in the plot about a third of the way through the book redeemed it and snagged me back in.  I found myself wishing for a more fleshed-out version of the story–I craved a full-blown novel, and was less excited about it in verse form.  But, again, personal preferences shine through here.

My Rating:

Bonus points for digging back to the Inquisition.