cover image The Witch of Cologne

The Witch of Cologne

Tobsha Learner, . . Forge, $14.95 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-1430-7

In a sensuous 17th-century saga set in German Catholic Cologne, Learner (Quiver ) transports readers to a time when studying the ancient Kabbalah could prove deadly for a young Jewish midwife. Ruth bas Elazar Saul is the headstrong daughter of the chief rabbi of Deutz, Cologne's Jewish ghetto. She undertakes the forbidden course of mystical study, her Sephardic mother's legacy, before absconding to Amsterdam to escape an arranged marriage. There, Ruth acquires the contemporary midwifery skills she will combine with her sacred learning, and upon her return to Cologne she delivers wealthy burghers' babies using new lifesaving methods, earning a reputation for more than medical genius. Word of her skills travels quickly, and as the Spanish Inquisition stretches its tentacles to the Rhineland, Ruth is arrested for sorcery by the sadistic archbishop Carlos Vicente Solitario, whose persecution of her is fueled by a stymied youthful obsession with her mother. Ruth's keen intelligence and bravery in prison win her an ally, Canon Detlef von Tennen, who falls passionately in love with the "Jewess." The two marry, and Learner has readers rooting for the survival of their unlikely alliance. This steamy, riveting page-turner is also a paean to the triumph of a woman's spirit. (Aug.)