City of Liars

Written by Michelle Fogle
Review by Cindy Vallar

The home to which Joachim Déulocresca returns is not the same one that he left. Fear and hate, tinged with greed—all under the guise of devout Catholicism—permeate Barcelona. No one is safe, especially if you are a Jew. After his contact is burned at the stake, Joachim removes the badge marking his religion to become a Christian pilot in search of a new ship.

The first Act of Faith is a powerful draw for devout Aularia Bautista. What better way is there to publicly demonstrate her Catholic faith? Her parents forbid her to attend, but willful naivete compels her to go. The auto-da-fé and anger she witnesses horrify her, and she confides this to her tutor who offers her a “better” way to demonstrate her piety.

Joachim and Aularia initially meet at the execution; their next encounter is at her home. Her father, a wealthy spice merchant, hires Joachim as his new navigator and agent. A shared attraction brings them together, while a confession nudges them to cooperate in helping Jews elude the Inquisition. But Barcelona is a city of liars, a place where everyone wears a mask. When the masks are lifted, Joachim and Aularia find themselves enmeshed in situations more portentous than expected and from which neither may escape.

The depth of Fogle’s research is evident and seamlessly interwoven into a story that incorporates graphic depictions of prejudice, murder, betrayal, deception, Barbary pirates, and rape. Absent is an author’s note to explain why she uses “Señyorita” instead of “Señorita.” While two first person viewpoints are initially disconcerting, Fogle deftly weaves a labyrinthine tale in which sectarianism is as relevant in 1487 Spain as it is today.