by Alice Hoffman
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Estrella is a Marrano: During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, she is one of a community of Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. And she is living in a house of secrets, raised by a family who practices underground the ancient and mysterious way of wisdom known as kabbalah. When Estrella discovers her family's true identity--and her family's secrets are made public--she confronts a world she's never imagined, where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash, where trust is all but vanquished and betrayal has tragic and bitter consequences.
Infused with the rich context of history and faith, in her most profoundly moving work to date, Alice Hoffman's first historical novel is a transcendent journey of discovery and loss, rebirth and remembrance.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
Incantation is a short novel about a time and place that I haven't encountered very often in my reading choices. The setting is Aragon, Spain in the year 1500. We're told the story from 16-year-old Estrella's point of view. The book is somewhat light on plot, but it still manages to pack quite a bit into its 166 pages.
The strength of this book is the writing. There is such a sense of place about the novel that I could almost smell the lime flowers on the breeze. At first, I thought the characters were a bit underdeveloped, but then I realized that Hoffman had managed to bring just enough depth to all of them, to help the reader know them and come to care about them. This seemed especially true for the secondary characters; I almost felt like I knew them better than I knew Estrella herself.
The one thing I did find odd was the use of italics (rather than quotation marks) for dialogue. However, this stylistic choice didn't detract from the flow at all.
It's a decent book, and fans of historical fiction will probably really enjoy it. For me, though, it was just a bit underwhelming. I could not relate to some of Estrella's thoughts and conclusions (especially at the end), and I felt like I might have been able to understand those parts of her a little better had the middle section of the novel been developed a bit more. All in all, Incantation was neither amazing nor awful; it was just average.
Overall: 3.29 out of 5