Author: James Conroyd Martin
Publisher: Hussar Quill Press
Type of book: Poland, 1683, Asian male/white female relationship, Battle of Vienna, war, archers, marriage, choices, decisions, secrets, family, brotherhood, prejudices, friendship, determination, trickery
Year it was published: 2016
"A poor archer in medieval Poland takes aim at the love of his life in this epic novel from Martin. The anxious Aleksy Gazdecki, a young farmhand, embodies the ethnic and political tensions of Europe during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. The believability of this novel, which is sprinkled with period-specific details, is never in question. Martin sets the stage so tidily that the plight of Aleksy and Krystyna, who desire to move beyond the social classes that keep them apart, transcends the historical moment. Sprawling but never slow, the plot moves naturally from battle to intimacy and back again.
"A gripping, transporting story of self-determination set against fate." Kirkus Reviews
Aleksy, a dark-complexioned Tatar raised by a Polish peasant family, holds in his heart the wish is to become a Polish hussar, a lancer who carries into battle a device attached to his back that holds dozens of eagle feathers. As a Tatar and as a peasant, this is an unlikely quest. When he meets Krystyna, the daughter of the noble who owns the land that his parents work, he falls hopelessly in love. But even though she returns his love, race and class differences make this quest as impossible as that of becoming a hussar. Under the most harrowing and unlikely circumstances, one day Aleksy must choose between his dreams.
Main characters include Aleksy Gazdecki, a Pole of Chinese-Tatar descent that is being raised by a poor family and has one dream, which is to be part of the Hussars prior to meeting Krystyna. Aleksy is very creative and crafty when it comes to weapons and is an extremely talented archer. He has some desire to find out his own heritage, and is also extremely lucky. Krystyna is a minor nobleman's daughter who is stubborn, headstrong and very determined to be with Alesky come hell or high water. She is also crafty, resourceful and very tomboyish. There are also Krystyna's two brothers; one full and another half brother. Marek is the younger full brother who follows the older brother Roman and is far more open towards Aleksy than Roman. Roman is half brother to Marek and Krystyna and is best described as close minded and determined to do whatever he can to punish Aleksy and Krystyna.
Dreams can come true unexpectedly
The story is in the third person narrative from Aleksy's and Krystyna's as well as her brothers' points of views. Most of the story is focused on Aleksy and on his life as being a Tatar-Chinese Polish man and how he is judged and seen by others. I have to say that Aleksy and Krystyna are the book's strengths, but I also feel if the book should have been longer, then Krystyna's brothers as well as the supporting cast would also be strong and memorable. I do feel as if the story tended to rush and the details that were visible in Push Not the River to make that story compelling and strong were absent in this book. The setting and its uniqueness also happened to be its strength because let's face it, this novel is not a Tudor novel and it takes place in Eastern Europe rather than the Western Europe, also what I loved, rich woman/poor male pairing is very present in the story.
Here are the reasons I'm really excited about this book: first of all its from the author that wrote Push Not the River which is a beautiful yet true tale about a woman's life and that book has a very dangerous femme fatale in terms of the woman's cousin Zosya. Second of all is the unexpected AM/WF pairing within this book (yay!) that I can show to my son when he gets to be older. The author humanizes both the villains and the heroes in the story and shows a lot of complexities in the way race has played in people's lives. In these times especially, its vital to understand that the battle is not new but old. When I was reading it, I was worried that perhaps the author might not understand or might not get on how people who look different are treated, yet it proved to be a needless worry. As I imagine, the author covered micro-aggressions that someone of Asian descent might go through from words and judgment of others to feelings of insecurity about himself. I do feel that the story should have been a bit longer than just 300 pages because it feels as if I didn't really get to know the characters as I hoped and also, I do hope that the author will write about the King and his wife which prove to be pretty fascinating characters themselves.
This is for HFVBT and was given to me by the author
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)