top of page

Heretic. Spy. Murderer. - an Editorial Review of "The Red Citadel"

Book Blurb:

A historical thriller set in the court of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain.

Perfect for fans of S.J. Parris and C.J. Sansom.

Granada, Andalusia, 1499 A city and a family in turmoil.

Heretic. Spy. Murderer. Is this Isaac Alvarez?

Issac is desperate to return from exile to his family in Seville. Haunted by accusations of heresy he is still recovering from the death of his wife. Granada is riven by religious tension: the Catholics want the Muslims to convert. Isaac falls in love with Aisha, the wife of the rebel Muslim leader and his friend, Abdul Rahman. If he finds out Isaac will be a dead man. The king offers Isaac a chance to return to Seville, in return for gathering intelligence on the rebels. Where do Isaac’s loyalties lie? Then an old enemy accuses Isaac of murdering the Grand Inquisitor. Can Isaac’s daughter, Isabel, save him?

Issac must prove he is innocent of murder, satisfy the king, and reconcile his feelings for Aisha. Can he quell a rebellion and reunite his family?

Book Buy Link:

Michael Lynes

Editorial Review:

'For neither good nor evil can last forever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.''

[''Don Quixote'' by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: 1547-1616]

''The Red Citadel'' by Michael Lynes is preceded by two books in the series that tell the story and the life and times of Isaac Camarino Alvarez, a ''Converso'' or ''Marrano'', a Jew who has embraced Christianity in a resurgent Catholic nation but who secretly continues to practice his Jewish religion. He is thus doubly endangered by being also a heretic, in a society dominated by the terrifying power of the sinister and all powerful 'Spanish Inquisition'' and whose shadow lies darkly over the lives of thousands. The previous two books of Michael Lynes: ''Blood Libel'' and ''The Heretic's Daughter'' have both been received with justifiable critical acclaim. 'The Red Citadel' may be read in isolation without any strength being lost in its story or vividness, but the reader should be aware that they will frequently be confronted with people and events that are the subjects of the first two books in the series and this will be at times both baffling and frustrating. The solution to this, of course, is to read the first two books in the series; failing that it would be useful, indeed necessary, to place Isaac Alvarez in the context of his times; for the times he lived in and the difficulties he faced as a consequence, are truly extraordinary!

The 'Reconquista' of Spain - the final emergence of the United Spanish peninsular under Christian rule and the overthrow of Muslim political power is a process that occupied centuries and coming to an end in the late Middle Ages, culminating in the final defeat of the last independent Muslim Emirate of Granada [the 'Nasrid Kingdom of Granada'] in January 1492 by the twin powers of the married Monarchs, Ferdinand II, King of Aragon [1479-1516], and Isabella, Queen of Castille [1474-1504] - the parents of the future Queen Catherine of Aragon, the future first wife of Henry VIII of England and the sponsors of Christopher Columbus. This eventual triumph of Christian Catholicism enabled the secular and religious powers to attend to the burning issue of the huge Jewish and Moslem populations of newly conquered and unified Spain. The blow fell first upon the Jews. The 'Alhambra Decree' of 1492 led to the expulsion of all Jews in Castille and Aragon and the burnings of about 2.000 people. [most usefully, Michael Lynes provides maps of both the Spanish peninsular and of Seville - the distance between the two cities important to the book, The distance between Seville and Granada is, incidentally, 156 miles - 251 kilometres]. At this period also, 'The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition' came into being, presided over by the evil genius of the Dominican Friar, Tomás de Torquemada - reputedly himself of 'converso' lineage. The original purpose of 'The Spanish Inquisition' was to prosecute former Jews such as Isaac Alvarez, who had relapsed back from Catholicism to their former faith. It was de Torquemada who initiated the first of the horrific persecutions of the 'Auto-da-fé'. The first of these was in Seville in 1481, in which 2000 may have fallen victim. The triumphant Ferdinand and Isabella feel that they can now turn to the issue of the large Islamic population of the 'Mudejar'. It is here, in Granada, that we encounter Isaac Alvarez, widowed by de Torquemada, exiled in Granada and exiled from his friends and family in Seville by his former employer Ferdinand II, in the City of Granada, beneath the towering mass of the Alhambra Palace.

The very first paragraph of 'The Red Citadel' is a veritable masterclass in how to commence upon a novel, revealing as it does Lynes' deep relish in the evocation, sights and smells of late Medieval Spain:

''As the Muezzin's cry announced another dawn, shafts of sunlight from behind the reaches of the Sierra Nevada crept across the face of the Alhambra, suffusing the Citadel's red walls with a saffron glow. The variegated light glided down the rich ramparts of the Fortress to find Granada at its base. It moved on to illuminate the city's terracotta tiled rooftops, pomegranate studded trees, and blue and white mosaic tiled fountains. It even insinuated itself into the shadowy alleyways of the labyrinthine Albaicín, creeping into the homes of the Mudéjars finishing their prayers, most too afraid of their Catholic masters to complete their devotions in the few remaining Mosques.....''

This is a truly fine example of a dawn deployed to set the action, as similar in its intensity to this reviewer as the opening of Dylan Thomas's 'Under Milk Wood'. It sets the high standard for the remainder of the book. We find Isaac, exiled to Granada a year since in a Royal decision to save him from burning, and still grieving for his dead wife and best friend - both victims of de Torquemada's Inquisition, living with the wealthy and influential spice merchant Abdul Rahman and his brother - and Isaac's good friend - Abu Ali Sina, the owner and manager of the last Apothecary shop in Granada. Inconveniently, Isaac is deeply in love with Aisha, the beautiful wife of Abdul Rahman, currently absent in Fez in what is now Morocco and due to return within the week. Her position will always be perilous in that she is an 'apostate' - a former Catholic who has converted to Islam in order to marry her husband. It is July 1499. To make ends meet, Isaac is currently employed as a lawyer in the labyrinthine and towering Alhambra by an old friend of his father's, Talavera, the pacific and conciliatory Archbishop of Granada, a man revered by the Mudéjars as 'Santa Alfaqui' - the 'Holy Teacher'. On this particular day, after a period of seven years, their Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella are due to arrive in Granada to take up residence for an indefinite period of time in the Alhambra. With them, the soon to be Cardinal Cisneros, the fearsome Grand Inquisitor and scourge of the faithless and the successor of de Torquemada. He is also the personal Confessor of Queen Isabella, the more prejudiced of the Royal couple. Isaac knows that this will mean bad news to the Moslem inhabitants of the city! Nonetheless, he is determined to secure an audience with King Ferdinand, whose chief advisor he used to be. Isaac is told by Talavera that King Ferdinand does indeed intend to summon him for an Interview!

Naturally, Isaac thinks of his family in Seville constantly; he misses them and he fears for them. Isabel, his daughter and Gabriel, his son, and the wards [the children of his dead friend Juan - Juana and Martín]. Isabel, in particular, has several pressing reasons to visit her father in Granada! She is a determined young woman approaching her eighteenth birthday. For one thing, she has received from Ali the offer of an apprenticeship in his Apothecary shop in Granada and, far more to the point, she has evidence that her father's life is in great danger! She has recently had a most unwelcome visit from a ghost from her past; a certain Friar Alonso de Hojeda, a one time deputy of the hated de Torquemada. He has recently returned from a long journey rescuing souls in the New World to discover that de Torquemada is dead and that Brother Andreas, an acolyte to whom he is extremely attached - a love both fraternal and platonic - is in prison in severe circumstances and accused of the murder of de Torquemada! Alonso believes he has evidence that in fact Isaac is the culprit of the crime. He has petitioned Cisneros to see their Majesties, to free Andreas and to accuse Isaac of the crime! Both Cisneros and Queen Isabel [who already bears a bitter grudge against Isaac] would be delighted to see this happen. This is why both Friar Alonso, and now Isabella, need to see the desirable and handsome young Alejandro de Cervantes, Isaac's former friend and Deputy and now Chief Advisor to King Ferdinand in replacement to Isaac. Alejandro is now a man of great consequence. He and Isabel were once very attached to each other - indeed Isabel had once declined his offer of marriage - and the old spark is still there! Alejandro must now make the journey to Granada to attend upon their Majesties, and Isabel is determined to accompany him! Alejandro, in fact, knows more about the death of Torquemada than it is wise to admit to, and of a plot between he and Isabel's father to rid the world of this terrible man! Yet again, this is a further reference to events in the previous two books!

Leaving aside the obvious fact that 'The Red Citadel' is beautifully written and has certain passages that makes the reader pause and then read again for the sheer relish of the experience, Lynes has proved once again to his devoted previous readers a flawless capacity to bring together various strands, wholly different characters with very different aims and objectives, both saints and sinners, in an overall weaving of a story that is complex and exciting. The book is, let it not be forgotten, a historical novel of a high quality. It involves love, death, an ongoing romance,spying and intrigue of a high quality and tension indeed. By the time that Isaac meets his former deputy once more and is informed that the King [ a complex character whose principal motivational features seem to be a wish for peace and reconciliation allied to an avaricious love of money] wishes Isaac to turn spy against his own host, the jovial and hospitable spice merchant Abu Rahman, all the vital ingredients are in place for a sustained historical thriller of the first order! Isaac is required to observe and inform on his own benefactor, a known leader of rebels and a man whose wife he believes he is desperately in love with. In return, the King will protect him against the perils of the Inquisition and death by burning on the part of the vengeful and single minded Isabella of Castille and the attentions of the appalling Inquisitor and implacable bigot, the evil Cardinal Cisneros. We have the separate strand of the seemingly thwarted love affair of Isabel and Alejandro, the ingenious intervention of the Infanta Caterina, the oldest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella [and soon to be packed off to England to marry the heir to the newly established Tudor throne] and the turmoil in the crowded quarters of Granada, where the oppressed Mudéjeros are seething in resentment and about to vengefully rise up in revolt against their Catholic masters; an uprising that could result in the violent death of thousands! By some way and means, the secretly unreformed Jew, Isaac Alvarez, must steer his way through this murky and potential catastrophe and find his own salvation. This is a heady stew indeed, but Lynes pauses from time to time to allow the reader to draw breath and look around for a moment. Here, on her dangerous and exhilarating journey to Granada from Seville, is Isabel's first view of the city; a view of the dusk as opposed to the dawn quoted earlier:

''Just as she thought she couldn't take anymore, the track began to descend. After trotting through a densely wooded copse they brought their horses to a halt at the edge of a steep drop. They were looking over a lush green valley. On the far side Isabel had her first sight of the Alhambra framed against the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. At first it seemed to her to be just a massive, solid block of red stone supported by brick ramparts towering hundreds of feet above the river below. Looking more closely, she picked out the many towers and huge entrance gates that made it an unassailable fortress. As the setting sun bathed its red walls in a saffron light, windows, porticoes and turrets emerged. Then lanterns and candelabras began to glow and flicker from inside the red citadel, and it shimmered equally in the light from within and without. She couldn't decide whether it was more castle or palace.....''

'The Red Citadel' is a novel with many facets lurking beneath its' principal theme of an adventure story. The reader is presented with the intensely gloomy inner uncertainty of Isaac, threatened with death by burning, as he communicates secretly with his God and is warned in the Torah of the double nature of the King in whom he has placed his trust: Indeed, the book is full of such issues of trust and deceit!

''You are caught in his tongs:

With one hand he brings you into the flames

While protecting you from the fire

Which with both hands he sets against you,''

There is the claustrophobic fear of being enclosed by an angry mob and an almost constant fear of impending danger and disaster. Set against this, there are the many vivid and joyous descriptions of life, such as the sheer exuberance of the 'bon viveur' and genial host Abdul Rahman in his spacious compound:

''Isaac marvelled at the scene before him. The air was full of the spicy aroma of ras-al hanout from the food stacked on the tables lining the far wall of the courtyard. The heady scent of sandalwood

wafted from incense burners nestling atop poles.......a man with long fingernails plucked at the strings of an oud, whilst his companion rhythmically caressed a drum cradled on his lap. They were accompanying a tall woman singing plangently in Arabic. The deep voice was at once both joyful and mournful......''

Lynton has much to offer the new reader and the connoisseur of complex and multi faceted tales such as this. The story is a shining advertisement for the preceding two books in the series and the subsequent book that seems inevitable! In the words of the near contemporary author of 'Don Quixote' with which this review began: ''The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.''


“The Red Citadel” by Michael Lynes receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



To have your historical novel editorially reviewed and/or enter the HFC Book of the Year contest, please visit


bottom of page