Book Review: Hammer Of Witches by: Shana Mlawski

Hammer Of Witches
Shana Mlawski
3.8 stars
Historical Fiction, Mythology, Religion, YA, Fantasy, & Paranormal Fiction
Publisher: Lee & Low/ Tu Books
Released Date:
May 12th 2015
Ages 12 & Up
 Review Copy Received from Publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Baltasar Infante, a bookmaker’s apprentice living in 1492 Spain, can weasel out of any problem with a good story. But when he awakes one night to find a monster straight out of the stories peering at him through his window, he’s in trouble that even he can’t talk his way out of.

Soon Baltasar is captured by a mysterious arm of the Spanish Inquisition, the Malleus Maleficarum, that demands he reveal the whereabouts of Amir al-Katib, a legendary Moorish sorcerer who can bring myths and the creatures within them to life. Baltasar doesn’t know where the man is—or that he himself has the power to summon genies and golems.

Baltasar must escape, find al-Katib, and defeat a dreadful power that may destroy the world. As Baltasar’s journey takes him into uncharted lands on Columbus’s voyage westward, he learns that stories are more powerful than he once believed them to be—and much more dangerous.

Book Review

Shana Mlawski’s Hammer Of Witches will definitely leave its readers in aw of the her impressive ability to creatively craft and intertwine mythical and biblical creatures, fairy tales and lessons on life and how no two people will interpret the same story the same way. Coupled with several relative themes of morality, truth, war and power.

I was also impressed with the author’s method of layering the connections between the different cultures and religions in the narrative; both the reader and Baltasar face—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—as the story carries us from the small town of Palos in Spain all the way across the Atlantic.

Bal’s character is intimately connected to all of them, having being born of a Christian mother and Muslim father, while being raised by two converted Jewish surrogate aunt and uncle. Ironically enough, I noticed that although the book is called Hammer of Witches, the story focuses more on Baltasar’s internal and external quest for answers and connection, rather than on the secret society out to kill him and his father, Amir Al-Katib.

Overall,  the story ended up surprising me in a lot ways: there was a lot of great dialogue, a fun play on a number of well-known fairy tales and openly flawed and self-aware characters. Even though Baltasar’s character is the main protagonist in this book, the reader never once self-proclaims himself a hero or anything close to it. His character development throughout the book even seemed to move in the opposite direction.

There was no wisdom here in this graveyard. In the old stories, the hero would go from a child who knew nothing about the world to a warrior full of strength and insight. It wasn’t supposed to happen the other way around. But now I felt more childish and useless than I had ever felt before.—Hammer of Witches, pg. 368-369

And while I liked the story and the characters in this book and the consistent edge teetering pacing of the narrative, it was the loose ending of the book that I felt indifferent to. Although it successfully tired up a few narrative questions and gives the reader (and Baltasar) some long over due answers, it was not the conclusion I was expecting.
Whats more, by the end of the story, I was left with a feeling of perplexity regarding what the intended moral of the story:
Any one tale can have multiple interpretations.
No matter how hard you try to avoid a prophecy of war, (change) there will always be elements out of your control.
But as this story is a book about storytelling, magic, myths and individual interpretation, I guess there really isn’t any real way of knowing. And in the words of Baltasar himself:
“And here I thought I was the main character,” I thought. “Maybe I wasn’t even part of the story.”


Which begs the question, by the end of the book is the reader reading the story to see what lessons Baltasar learns or to learn a few lessons of his or her own?

Was that too much food for thought? Sometimes I get philosophical. I hope you all enjoyed this book review and will go check out Hammer Of Witches for yourselves. Especially if you are a fan of cultural mythology, fantasy, history and magic. It’ll be an adventure 🙂

Thanks so much for reading.

Until the next post,





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