The Familiar Summary, Characters and Themes

Set in 15th-century Spain during the Inquisition, “The Familiar” by Leigh Bardugo follows Luzia, a servant girl with a hidden talent for miracles. 

Her mistress exploits Luzia’s abilities to climb the social ladder, leading to dangerous consequences. Luzia finds an unlikely ally in Guillén Santángel, an immortal familiar with secrets of his own. As their bond deepens, they navigate a world of political intrigue, forbidden magic, and the enduring power of human connection.


In 15th-century Spain, Luzia Cotado, a kitchen maid hiding her Jewish heritage, possesses a hidden talent for magic. 

When her mistress, Doña Valentina, discovers Luzia’s ability to mend a burnt loaf of bread with a spell, she sees an opportunity to elevate their social status. Luzia, tired of being unseen, reluctantly agrees to showcase her magic in front of guests.

Her performance attracts the attention of Víctor de Paredes, a powerful figure seeking a miracle worker to participate in a tournament organized by the disgraced royal secretary, Antonio Pérez. 

The tournament aims to find a holy champion for King Philip, who seeks to restore Spain’s glory.

Luzia is taken under Víctor’s wing, receiving training from Santángel, a mysterious and enigmatic man who serves as Víctor’s assassin. 

Luzia and Santángel are drawn to each other, forming a deep bond amidst the intrigue and danger.

As Luzia’s magical abilities grow, she faces trials at the secretary’s palace alongside other contenders. Her powers become more potent, but they also reveal a darker side, capable of inflicting harm. 

Santángel, who harbors a secret desire for freedom from Víctor’s control, encourages Luzia to win the tournament, promising her liberation as well.

During the trials, Luzia faces sabotage and threats to her life. The other contenders, including the seemingly innocent olive farmer and the pious Holy Child, harbor their own ambitions and secrets. 

Santángel helps Luzia navigate the treacherous path, but their relationship faces obstacles as Santángel’s true nature as an immortal familiar is revealed.

The tournament reaches its climax with a dangerous final trial, where Luzia confronts the olive farmer’s betrayal and witnesses Santángel’s sacrifice to protect her. 

Captured by the Inquisition, Luzia faces persecution for her magic and Jewish heritage.

In a desperate attempt to save Santángel and herself, Luzia uses her magic to escape imprisonment, but only she manages to evade capture. When Víctor arrives to negotiate for Luzia’s release, Santángel urges her to denounce him as a demon to break his bond with Víctor. 

However, Luzia chooses to denounce herself as well, trusting in their connection.

Sentenced to burn at the stake, Luzia and Santángel face their impending doom. 

In a final act of defiance, Luzia summons her magic, transporting them away from the pyre and into an unknown future.

With their newfound freedom, Luzia and Santángel embark on a journey together, embracing their love and shared destiny. 

Every morning, Santángel burns to ash due to his curse, but Luzia faithfully uses her magic to heal him, ensuring their continued existence together.

The Familiar Summary


Luzia Cotado

Luzia, an orphaned kitchen maid, emerges as the protagonist, navigating the complexities of her concealed Jewish heritage and budding magical abilities. 

Initially timid and seeking solace in her refranes, she gradually embraces her power under Santángel’s guidance, showcasing resilience and a fierce spirit as she confronts both political machinations and the Inquisition’s persecution. 

Luzia’s evolution is marked by a growing self-assurance and a determination to protect those she cares for, ultimately leading her to defy societal norms and forge her own path alongside Santángel.

Santángel (The Scorpion)

Santángel, the enigmatic immortal bound to serve Víctor, adds an element of mystery and intrigue to the narrative. 

Initially presenting as an aloof mentor, his layers gradually unravel, revealing a compassionate heart and a yearning for freedom. 

His complex relationship with Luzia oscillates between teacher and lover, culminating in a shared act of defiance against their oppressors. 

Santángel’s character is a testament to the enduring power of hope and the capacity for love to transcend even the most formidable barriers.

Víctor de Paredes

Víctor, the cunning and ambitious patron, serves as a formidable antagonist, exploiting Luzia’s abilities for personal gain and political maneuvering. 

His insatiable thirst for power and disregard for others’ well-being highlight the darker aspects of ambition and the lengths to which individuals may go to achieve their goals. 

Víctor’s eventual downfall underscores the consequences of unchecked greed and the karmic justice that awaits those who prioritize personal gain over the well-being of others.

Doña Valentina Ordoño

Doña Valentina, Luzia’s mistress, is initially depicted as frivolous and self-absorbed, preoccupied with societal status and personal desires. 

However, her character gradually reveals a longing for connection and a discontent with her predetermined role in society. 

Her decision to leave her husband and pursue a relationship with the lady playwright signifies a newfound independence and a rejection of societal expectations.

Aunt Hualit Cana

Aunt Hualit, the mistress of Víctor de Paredes, is a complex figure marked by survival instincts and a pragmatism borne out of hardship. 

While her initial actions towards Luzia may seem harsh, they stem from a desire to protect her niece from the dangers of their world. 

Hualit’s story serves as a reminder of the difficult choices individuals may be forced to make in the face of oppression and the sacrifices necessary for survival.

Antonio Pérez

Antonio Pérez, the disgraced royal secretary, embodies the cutthroat nature of court politics and the lengths to which individuals may go to regain favor. 

His manipulation of events and orchestration of the tournament highlight the ruthless pursuit of power and the lengths to which ambition can drive individuals. 

Pérez’s fate serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of unchecked ambition and the importance of moral integrity.


The Endurance of Hope and Love in the Face of Oppression

Amidst the Inquisition’s harsh realities, “The Familiar” paints a world of hope and love’s resilience. Luzia, despite her Jewish heritage and concealed magical abilities, refuses to succumb to despair. 

She clings to the songs of her ancestors, the “refranes,” not just as a source of magic but as a connection to her identity and a beacon of hope in adversity. Her love for Santángel, an immortal burdened by a curse, is a testament to love’s enduring power. 

Their affection transcends societal boundaries and defies the cruelty they face. It fuels their determination to break free from their tormentors, showcasing how love can empower individuals to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

Even when Santángel is reduced to ash daily, Luzia’s unwavering love restores him, symbolizing the cyclical nature of hope and resilience.

The Intersection of Magic, Identity, and Survival

In a world dominated by religious fervor, magic in “The Familiar” is not merely a supernatural force but an intricate part of identity and survival.

Luzia’s magic, rooted in her Jewish heritage and the Ladino language, becomes a powerful tool for self-preservation. It shields her from those who seek to exploit or harm her, and it ultimately enables her to escape the clutches of the Inquisition. However, magic is also a double-edged sword. 

It can be manipulated and misused, as seen in the olive farmer’s dark intentions. This duality reflects the complex relationship between magic and identity. It can be a source of strength, but it can also be a target for suspicion and persecution. 

The novel underscores the importance of understanding and controlling one’s magical abilities, using them not for personal gain but for protection and empowerment.

The Dangers of Blind Ambition and the Abuse of Power

“The Familiar” serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of unbridled ambition and the destructive nature of unchecked power. 

Víctor de Paredes, driven by his insatiable desire for wealth and influence, manipulates and exploits those around him, including Luzia and Santángel. His actions not only endanger their lives but also erode his own humanity, ultimately leading to his downfall. 

The novel illustrates how the pursuit of power can corrupt individuals, blinding them to the suffering they inflict on others. 

It also highlights the importance of resisting such temptations and using one’s influence for good rather than for personal gain.

The Significance of Cultural Heritage and Resilience

In the face of religious persecution and cultural erasure, “The Familiar” underscores the significance of preserving one’s heritage. 

Luzia’s connection to her Jewish roots, embodied in the Ladino language and the refranes, becomes a source of strength and resilience. It allows her to tap into a rich tradition of knowledge and magic, enabling her to defy those who seek to suppress her identity. 

The novel celebrates the power of cultural heritage to provide solace, guidance, and a sense of belonging in a world that often tries to erase it. 

It encourages readers to embrace their own unique backgrounds and to resist attempts to homogenize or suppress cultural diversity.