Benton Book Reviews: The Secret Music at Tordesillas by Marjorie Sandor

Welcome back to The Advocate’s Monthly Book Review. This October, I’m recommending a stellar work of historical fiction by local author Marjorie Sandor. The Secret Music at Tordesillas is all at once a gripping love story, a daring look into the world of the Spanish Inquisition, and those who lived within it.   

Set against the backdrop of the Spanish and French Courts in the 16th century, the novel follows the life and adventures of Juan de Granada, a once Jewish man, saved by the Princess who would become Queen Juana I of Castile, otherwise known as “Juana la loca.” Upon her death in 1555, Juan refuses to leave the palace that was the queen’s prison for the last 47 years of her life, forcing the Holy Office of the Inquisition to interrogate him within the empty walls of Tordesillas. His story weaves its way across continents and through myriads of people, but always protects that which he comes to hold most dear, a converso lurking even within the Queen’s own household.  

Always a fan of historical fiction, I was not disappointed by this beautifully written novel. Music is central to every part and the reader can almost hear the strumming of the vihuela and the tones of an alto voice singing tunes laced with forbidden melodies. I became mesmerized by the mystery surrounding Inés de Castro, and the story of a Queen placed in exile by those she held most dear. It’s one of those books that you read long into the night, because you care so deeply about the characters that you just can’t wait until morning. The author leads you gently down paths little explored in most literature, while letting your imagination to do its finest work.   

The Secret Music at Tordesillas was the recipient of the Tuscarora Award in Historical Fiction, offered by Hidden River Arts for an unpublished book length work of historical fiction. Corvallis-based author Marjorie Sandor has written five books of nonfiction and fiction, receiving the 2004 National Jewish Book Award in Fiction for Portrait of my Mother, Who Posed Nude in Wartime: Stories. She also won the 2000 Oregon Book Award for Literary Nonfiction.   

The Secret Music at Tordesillas was published in April of 2020 by Hidden Rivers. Signed copies are available at Grass Roots Bookstore.   

Kyra Young