By Melanie Little
Published by Annick Press
Melanie Little’s free verse novel, The Apprentice's Masterpiece, is set in medieval Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, revealing to readers the truth behind the Inquisition’s brutality. Because of the historical setting, some scenes of brutality and complexity of the politics, The Apprentice's Masterpiece is best suited for readers in grades seven to ten. The novel follows Ramon, a fifteen-year-old converse (a Jew converted to Christianity) and Amir, a Muslim slave in Ramon’s home.
Trouble brews when Amir begins to work alongside Ramon as an apprentice scribe, under the direction of Ramon's father. Ramon begins to harbor resentment and eventual hatred for Amir when he notices how fond his parents are becoming of the young slave. The Apprentice's Masterpiece is set in the years 1485 through 1492, a time in Spain when Jews and Muslims were expected to convert to Christianity. Through various forms of torture and autos da fe (public burning at the stake) the theoretical intent of the Inquisition was to unite Spain under one religion. In Ramon’s household, a dramatic event engulfs his family and tears it apart, as Amir is taken away to be enslaved on a galley ship, and Ramon begins to work for the Inquisitors. In part two, readers are led away from Ramon’s point of view and into Amir’s narrative as we follow him through the horrors of slavery. Part three of The Apprentice's Masterpiece reunites the two young men as their paths cross again in a haunting, unforgettable scene.
Little’s effective use of the verse novel format draws readers into this 15th century nightmare and helps them to gain a perspective the Spanish citizens; witnessing public burnings, slavery, religious persecution and general brutality. Readers will develop a strong connection to the characters and be able to relate to Ramon and Amir’s conflicts, despite the historical divide. The Apprentice's Masterpiece is a taut, political and complex reflection of Spanish history, and Little’s detailed research combined with her excellent writing will capture any reader’s imagination.