Take A Peek Book Review: The Day of Atonement by David Liss

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Day of Atonement


(via Goodreads)

Sebastião Raposa is only thirteen when his parents are unjustly imprisoned, never to be seen again, and he is forced to flee Portugal lest he too fall victim to the Inquisition. But ten years in exile only serve to whet his appetite for vengeance. Returning at last to Lisbon, in the guise of English businessman Sebastian Foxx, he is no longer a frightened boy but a dangerous man tormented by violent impulses. Haunted by the specter of all he has lost—including his exquisite first love—Foxx is determined to right old wrongs by punishing an unforgivable enemy with unrelenting fury.

Well schooled by his benefactor, the notorious bounty hunter Benjamin Weaver, in the use of wits, fists, and a variety of weapons, Foxx stalks the ruthless Inquisitor priest Pedro Azinheiro. But in a city ruled by terror and treachery, where money and information can buy power and trump any law, no enemy should be underestimated and no ally can be trusted. Having risked everything, and once again under the watchful eye of the Inquisition, Foxx finds his plans unraveling as he becomes drawn into the struggles of old friends—and new enemies—none of whom, like Lisbon itself, are what they seem.

Compelled to play a game of deception and greed, Sebastian Foxx will find himself befriended, betrayed, tempted by desire, and tormented by personal turmoil. And when a twist of fate turns his carefully laid plans to chaos, he will be forced to choose between surrendering to bloodlust or serving the cause of mercy.

My Thoughts:

What a captivating book! The narrator is a fascinating man, whose description of himself is not particularly trustworthy. Sebastian describes himself early on as a monster, someone whose sole purpose in life is vengeance. Yet as we follow his intrigues and alliances while he moves his chess pieces into place, we come to see him also as a man with a moral core. He is a ruthless fighter who does not hesitate when violence is called for, yet his time in Lisbon becomes more and more complicated due to his sense of personal obligation to those he becomes entangled with. He defends those who need it; he strives to right old wrongs; he grants forgiveness to people who cause him pain because he realizes they had only poor choices to make. Yes, he’s still violent, but his rage is directed against the true villains, and the more people he embroils in his plots, the more people he ends up trying to rescue.

I was very interested in the historical setting, having previously not read much about Portugal during this time period. The Inquisition and its cruelty and corruption is awful to read about, and the author does a masterful job of making the dread and menace feel real. I was also fascinated to read about the massive earthquake that leveled Lisbon in 1755, which is used to great effect as part of the dramatic escape efforts of the main group of characters.

I’m grateful to my online book group for selecting The Day of Atonement as a book-of-the-month discussion book. I might not have come across it otherwise, but I’m very glad that I did. This is David Liss’s 8th novel, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

PS – I discovered after the fact that supporting character Benjamin Weaver is in fact the main character in three previous novels by this author. I’ll have to check them out!


The details:

Title: The Day of Atonement
Author: David Liss
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: September 23, 2014
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library

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