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The Familiar
(Review, Chapter Summary & Spoilers)

By Leigh Bardugo

Book review, full book summary and synopsis for The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo, a fantastical novel of magic and politics set in the Spanish Golden Age.


In The Familiar, Luzia Cotado is a sullery maid working for a family with a dwindling fortune in Madrid during the Spanish Golden Age. When her limited abilities in magic are discovered by her employer, they seize on it as a way to improve their social standing.

However, it soon attracts the attention of Antonio Pérez, a disgraced nobleman looking to regain the king's favor by locating a holy magic user to serve the king. And Luzia soon finds herself with a patron who tasks an immortal familiar, Guillén Santángel, with teaching her to wield her magic as part of a cutthroat competition.

In this story of seers, fraudsters, royalists, alchemists, magical bonds and the Inquisition, Luzia must find a way to navigate this tournament, as the faces a world full of possibility but danger as well.

(The Full Plot Summary is also available, below)

Full Plot Summary

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
See the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of The Familiar
Quick Plot Summary

The three-paragraph version: Luzia is a scullery maid who has a talent for magic. Her employer Valentina discovers this and forces her to perform publicly, leading to Luzia being approached by a patron, Víctor de Paredes, to compete in a competition to produce a holy magic user to serve the king. It is being hosted by Antonio Pérez, who hopes to regain the king's favor by producing a champion. Víctor's servant Santángel is tasked with training Luzia. Luzia grows powerful, and she and Santángel develop a bond that grows into a romance. However, she learns that Santángel is actually an immortal familiar whose life is bound in servitude to the de Paredes familial line due to a deal that was struck with Víctor's ancestors a long time ago. Secretly, Santángel's plan is for Luzia to become the champion and for Víctor to strike a deal with her to take his place, which would set him free.

Meanwhile, Luzia has prove herself in a series of three trials against the other three competitors -- Gracia "The Beauty", Teoda "the Holy Child" and Fortún "the Farmer's Son". During the second trial, dark shadows attack, and Luzia has to combat them. Teoda is falsely blamed for the attack (though Fortún was responsible) and arrested by the Inquisition. Then, during the third trial, Fortún offers Luzia an alliance but backstabs her. The proceedings are interrupted when it turns out that Pérez has completely lost the king's favor and has had to flee. Luzia is arrested by the Inquisition and ends up in a cell with Teoda. They attempts an escape, and Teoda is freed, but Luzia is recaptured.

At the Inquisition tribunal, Luzia and Santángel both offer themselves up as servants of the devil in order to get out from under Víctor's grasp, even if it means burning at the pyre. Soon, there is an elaborate public sentencing in Madrid that the king attends. When they are tied up to be burnt and the pyre is lit, Luzia transports herself and Santángel to Valencia to start a new life. People believe they are dead, but their remains aren't found in the ashes.

In Chapters 1 - 9, Luzia is a scullery maid with Jewish ancestry working for Doña Valentina and Don Marius Ordoño in Madrid during the Spanish Golden Age. When Valentia discovers that Luzia is able to perform small feats of magic, she demands that Luzia perform for her friends over dinner as entertainment.

The performance leads to more performances until Luzia's Aunt Hualit who lives nearby warns her to be careful not to attract the attention of the Inquisition. Luzia also worries whether the extra attention could result in inquiries into Luzia's background, which could reveal her Jewish ancestry. Luzia and Hualit's familial bond is a secret. In public, Hualit goes by the name Catalina de Castro de Oro, and she is known as the mistress to a wealthy man named Víctor de Paredes.

Eventually the performances attract the attention of a spy for Antonio Pérez, and Víctor de Paredes comes looking for Luzia. Pérez is the former secretary to the king and is looking to regain the king's good graces by producing a champion in the Torneo Secreto, a competition to find a holy magic user to serve the king. De Paredes intends to train Luzia to be the champion, under the guidance of his servant Guillén Santángel.

In Chapters 10 - 20, Luzia begins her training with Santángel to learn to use her magic, and Hualit helps to guide her in her mannerisms and dress. However, De Paredes is unimpressed by Luzia's progress. When he tells his bodyguard Álvaro to break Santángel's fingers to force her to mend them, Luzia unintentionally splits Álvaro's body apart. Everyone is upset by the events, but it also lets them know the power that Luzia is capable of.

Luzia finds herself wanting to win the Torneo and believing that she can. Santángel explains that it will consist of three trials - the demonstration of proof, the proof of purity and the proof of power, with the final trial taking place in front of the king.

In Chapters 21 - 28, Luzia and her entourage go to Pérez's luxurious home La Casilla for the first trial. There, she meets the three other competitors. Teoda Halcón, known as the "Holy Child", is a young girl who sees visions and can predict the future. Gracia de Valera, known as "The Beauty", is a gorgeous woman who is said to have magic and speak to the dead. Luzia is given the nickname "La Hermanita".

Finally, Fortún Donadei, known as the "Prince of Olives", is the the son of an olive farmer who evokes magic when he plays music. Fortún's benefactor is Doña Beatriz, and he confides in Luzia that she owns him body and soul. However, he loathes his mistress and hopes to win the competition so that he can have the life he wants without the need for her.

After the first trial, Gracia appears to be somewhat of a fraud, but the other two are impressive competitors. Luzia creates an impressive spectacle of the constellation that Pérez was born under, which he views as a symbol of his fate being bound with that of the king and queen.

In Chapters 29 - 33, at the second trial, the Vicar of Madrid presides over a puppet show of the birth of Christ that's meant to display the candidate's powers and determine if their powers are demonic or holy. However, partway through the show, demonic shadows take over and seem to leap off the stage. Luzia saves Grazia's life and extinguishes the shadows, but afterwards all the candidates are under suspicion. Gracia decides to leave the Torneo.

That night, Luzia asks Santángel to stay with her and tell her a story. He tells her of prince who lived a blessed life and became obsessed with seeking immortality after seeing his father die. The prince had a devoted friend and servant, Tello, who went with him on his extensive travels. Finally, one day, the prince is approached by a stranger who offers him a deal for immortality -- to give up the thing he values least and for his servant Tello to give up the thing he loves most. They both agree. Afterwards, the prince has immortality, but discovers his luck has been transferred to Tello and later he learns that he can only survive by staying nearby Tello de Paredes and his descendants. He realizes the stranger was employed by Tello and the thing Tello gave up was the prince's trust.

Santángel says that he keeps hoping one of the descendants will free him from his curse, and Luzia tells him there must be a way. However, Santángel thinks to himself he already has a plan, but it dooms Luzia. That night, Luzia and Santángel's relationship turns physical and they begin sleeping together.

In Chapters 34 - 39, the Inquisition comes to take Teoda away after finding Calvinist texts in her father's belongings, and they attribute the attack on her. Meanwhile, it's revealed that Santángel's plan to free himself from the de Paredes involves consigning Luzia to his curse. When Luzia wins, de Paredes will take her power and she'll take Santángel's place, and Santángel will be free from his curse.

Before the last trial, Hualit tells Luzia that she intends leave for Venice, and she invites Luzia to join her to escape the clutches of these men. However, Luzia declines, saying she believes she can win and make a better life for herself.

In Chapters 40 - 45, the third trial arrives. However, it turns out that Pérez's relationship with the king is worse than people realized, and the king has sent Perez's rival, Vázquez de Leca, in his place. Before it starts, De Paredes makes clear to Luzia that she needs to be impressive enough to force De Leca to bring her to the king, and that if she doesn't her life is on the line.

Just before the third trial, Luzia accepts Fortún's offer to be allies. However, after they take their turn together, Fortún backstabs her by trying to one-up her by building a ship. Luzia also recognizes in his magic that he was the one who sabotaged the second trial. Luzia destroys his creation, and he pushes her in the water. Before things can go further, the trial is interrupted by the news that Pérez has fled and the kings soldiers are rounding people up and arresting them.

With the soliders pursuing them, Santángel uses his body as a shield to prevent Luzia from being hit by arrows, but Luzia is still arrested and sent to be questioned by the Inqusition. Hualit leaves for Venice on a coach, but it turns out De Paredes had no intention of letting her leave, and she is killed. Meanwhile, Valentina and Marius are imprisoned, questioned and released. Valentina decides to travel to Toledo to help advocate for and care for Luzia since she got her into this mess, while Marius refuses to help and tries to talk Valentina out of it. She leaves him.

In Chapters 46 - 55, Luzia awakes in a cell in Toledo with Teoda. Teoda admits to Luzia that she's actually a 38-year-old woman in a child's body and that Fortún charmed her by giving her the type of attention she doesn't usually receive from men. They both agree that Fortún probably accused them of being heretics to secure his own freedom. Luzia convinces Teoda to attempt to break out, and they get out a message to Teoda's brother for help. Teoda is freed in the the breakout attempt, but Teoda's brother is killed and Luzia is recaptured.

Meanwhile, Santángel has been kept in a small underground cage as punishment by Víctor for trying to help Luzia get away. He's finally released by de Paredes and brought to the Inquisition tribunal. Howevever, to Víctor's dismay, during the tribunal both Luzia and Santángel both offer themselves up as servants of the devil in order to get out from under Víctor's grasp, even if it means burning at the pyre.

Soon, there is an elaborate public sentencing (auto de fe) in Madrid that the king attends. Luzia and Santángel are tied up to be burnt. But when the pyre is lit, Luzia focuses her magic and transports herself and Santángel to Valencia to start a new life. People believe they are dead, but their remains aren't found in the ashes. The book ends with them buying passage to Holland and traveling together.

For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.

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Book Review

Leigh Bardugo’s The Familiar is a historical fiction fantasy set in Madrid during the Spanish Golden Age, released a few days ago much to the excitement of her devoted cadre of fans.

Inventive and dark, Bardugo’s standalone historical fantasy novel centers around a scullery maid with Jewish ancestry, Luzia, who is discovered to have a talent for magic. Luzia and those around her become drawn into the power and luxuries that come with her involvement in a magical competition to produce a holy magic user for Spain’s Catholic king, King Philip.

The Familiar is unlike most stuff I’ve read recently, which made it a nice change of pace. It’s a story draped in magic, royal politics, longing, and raw and rabid ambitions. I especially loved the setting of the novel, with all that the Spanish Golden Age evokes, and Bardugo fills her story with a range of memorable characters.

Bardugo has authored a range of bestselling books at this point, and her writing in The Familiar feels confident and assured. I think there are some books that read like the author is really enjoying themselves in writing and exploring their story, and this is one of them.

When I heard about this book, I knew I would probably read it. I knew I liked the setting and the idea of a historical fantasy set during this period in Spain, but I wasn’t sure if I’d actually like the book itself. I’ve read one other novel by Leigh Bardugo, Ninth House, and was not as enthusiastic about the premise and the story overall.

But I enjoyed The Familiar, which was a nice surprise. It moves at a moderate pace and spins it dark tale about ambition and desire with ease. The story loses a bit of steam towards the middle, but it picks back up and kept my interest overall.

Some Criticisms

Some of the plotting of the book feels a little messy. The political intrigue in the story in particular seems like it could have been cleaned up more, with the motivations of the characters made clearer. For example, a component of the plot deals with various characters’ desire to please the king, but the motivations behind some of the political maneuvering is left a little fuzzy. It’s not a huge deal, but I think it would’ve been a stronger book with a more coherent political backdrop.

Read it or Skip it?

The Familiar is a captivating and intriguing story. There are dark secrets, seers, fraudsters, and it loops in bits of Spanish history and cloaks itself in a mixture of magic and political maneuvering. The story itself is a little more simplistic than I was expecting given all the moving parts, but it still makes for an entertaining read.

No doubt Leigh Bargudo fans will be pleased with this offering, especially since there is of course a substantial romantic storyline that runs throughout the book.

I think for anyone else, if the premise sounds interesting to you, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it. I wasn’t wowed by it, but I thought it was a engrossing story to sink into for a while.

See The Familiar on Amazon.

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The Familiar Audiobook Review

Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Length: 12 hours 57 minutes

Hear a sample of The Familiar audiobook on

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of The Familiar

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