Joachim’s Magic Submitted by Sandy Curry
By Jerrika L. Waller
Joachim’s Magic is the newest historical fiction novel from M.L. Stainer, author of the Lyon Saga series.
The story is told from the perspective of Reis Courtney, the 12-year-old apprentice to Queen Elizabeth I’s metallurgist in 1585. Reis and his master, Joachim “Dougham” Gans, are part of an expedition to Virginia for gold, silver and copper to prepare for war with Spain.
The crew’s adventures highlight Joachim, the first documented Jew in the New World.
The writing is accessible to the recommended 12-and-up age level while challenging the reader with sophisticated concepts like tolerance and sacrifice.
Stainer conveys the exploration of the New World convincingly, capturing the Elizabethan era’s shift from superstition to science as the characters attempt to navigate the foreign territory.
Expedition members are wary of Reis’s Jewish master, who diligently takes notes on the advancements of his craft, conspicuously forgoes non-Kosher food and leaves the party to pray on his own in a mysterious language throughout the entire expedition.
“Germanglish” peppers the hired German miners’ and smelters’ dialogue, and contributes effectively to the reader’s experience of Reis’s lack of formal education and the relative multi-culturalism of this expedition.
Similarly, various Hebrew phrases are effectively placed in Joachim’s dialogue.
Characters sometimes offer an English translation and sometimes do not.
Readers unfamiliar with traditional Jewish practices also enjoy a cursory introduction through Reis’s ignorance and subsequent instruction in his master’s strange habits and behavior.
Reis witnesses suspenseful and exciting scenes when tensions rise between the more prejudiced expedition members and Joachim, and after the team starts encountering hostile local Indians. The fights and bloodshed are dramatic without being gratuitous.
Although the message of tolerance is somewhat convoluted by a remorseless counter-attack on the “savages,” it accurately displays the contemporary attitudes and treatment toward “others” like Joachim and the Indians, prompting modern readers to reevaluate assumptions not only about the “wild man” Jew, but also about the “savage” Indians, and any “others’ in our world today.