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April 08, 2013

Review & Interview: Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski

Hammer of Witches
Title: Hammer of Witches
Author: Shana Mlawski
Publisher: Tu Books
Publication Date: April 1, 2013
Genre: Middle Grade (Fantasy)
Source: Publisher
Format: ARC
Pages: 400

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Baltasar Infante can weasel out of any problem with a good story. But when he encounters a monster straight out of stories one night, Baltasar faces trouble even he can’t talk his way out of. Captured by the Malleus Maleficarum, a mysterious witch-hunting arm of the Spanish Inquisition, Baltasar is put to the question. The Inquisitor demands he reveal the whereabouts of Amir al-Katib, a legendary Moorish sorcerer who can bring myths and the creatures within them to life.

Now 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.
To be honest with you, this book was the slightest bit confusing. From what I figured out, Baltasar Infante is an apprentice bookbinder who can always tell good stories. But the monsters from the stories aren't always made up in Baltasar's world. When a monster from one of Baltasar's stories is seen one night, Baltasar is in for trouble he can't smooth talk out of for the very first time. A witch hunting army called the Malleus Malificarum has captured him, and put him to question about Amir al-Katib, the infamous Moorish sorcerer who can take monsters from stories and make them appear in real life. Baltasar takes a dangerous journey to uncharted lands with Columbus, and learns some stories aren't just stories. 
I couldn't connect to any characters, but I'm sure somebody can connect with them. I thought of this book as a historical-fantasy book that was more fantastical than historical. The book wasn't annoying, but I didn't adore reading it. It was an ok read. It was interesting in the beginning, but as I went on I got slightly bored. Maybe it's just me, because I get bored of historical fiction easily. 
It ended with a story, and it was a good way to wrap up a book about Storytellers. I liked the ending. I might read other books from this author, maybe as an over the summer read. Hammer of Witches is written in first person, which I like, but the way it's written can be confusing at some points in the book. The flow was ok, but slightly confusing at some points in time. I might reread this when I'm a bit older, so I recommend this book to 7-9 graders.

1. What made you want to write a book about witches and Columbus's journey?
It started when I realized 1492 is one of the most dramatic years in history. Forget about Columbus for a second. It is still one of the most dramatic years in history. In 1492, Christian Spain conquered the last Muslim kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula, ending a series of wars that had been raging for six centuries. Six centuries! Imagine. Afterward, King Fernando and Queen Isabel ordered every Jew in Spain to convert to Christianity, leave the country, or die. At this point the infamous Spanish Inquisition expanded to ensure the new converts weren't practicing Judaism in secret. Spoiler alert: They were. In short, Spain in 1492 was a powder-keg of religious and ethnic tensions that might seem familiar to those of us living in 2013. Fernando and Isabel had just decided they were done with diversity and cultural exchange when Columbus bungled into the Americas and discovered a whole new hemisphere of cultures. Knowing all of this, how could I not write a book set in 1492? As for the “Why witches?” question: Fantasy is my favorite genre. Of course there were going to be witches.

2. Will you make a second book or not, what would it be about?
That's up to you folks. I would love to write a second book, and maybe more. (Columbus did go on four voyages, you know.) There's a lot more story to be told, especially about the Taíno people who rose up against the Spanish during and after Columbus's second voyage. I have tons of ideas and am itching to write them down, but first we need to see how Hammer of Witches does with readers. So if you like the book and want to see what happens next, tell your friends to pick up a copy today.

3. Did you hear any of these stories before you wrote the book? Or did the stories in this book come from research?
Hammer of Witches is full of legends from Europe, the Middle East, and the Caribbean, most of which I knew before I wrote the book. That said, I had a blast learning some new ones along the way. For example, I had heard the term “printer's devil” before, but I didn't know there's actually a demon associated with printing and writing. His name is Titivillus, and the next time you make a typo, he's the one to blame. He's definitely not one of the scarier demons out there, but I wouldn't want him hanging around me while I'm writing!

4. Did you get your inspiration for the characters from people you know?
Yes, but not intentionally. I'm a teacher, and I definitely see some of my old students in Baltasar, our protagonist. Baltasar's that kid who would probably get the highest grade in the class if he didn't spend every period cracking jokes with his friends. He's also that kid who turns into a would-be Casanova the instant a pretty girl walks past him. (He thinks he's charming. It's cute that he thinks he's charming.) Hammer of Witches is about what would happen if you took that guy, threw him into 1492, and sent the Spanish Inquisition after him.
Also there's a genie. 


  1. This does sounds pretty good. Glad you enjoy it for the most part. Thanks for sharing the interview, it was great.

    Jenea @ Books Live Forever

  2. I love it that the author found inspiration in so many legends from diverse parts of the world. The cover is cute and it sounds interesting.

  3. Thanks for sharing the review and interview! I always love reading about why an author write her story. I think multi-culture and witches are exciting elements for a fantasy :)

  4. I haven't heard of this one before but it sounds pretty interesting :) And awesome interview!

    Janina @ Synchronized Reading

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