Against a Crimson Sky
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Against a Crimson Sky

4.8 5
by James Conroyd Martin

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Praise for Push Not the River:

"Push Not the River contains all the sweep and romance of the classic epics such as Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago, with a heroine who remains strong in the face of both personal and political tragedy. An enthralling tale of courage, survival, and hope, Anna Maria's story is at once timeless


Praise for Push Not the River:

"Push Not the River contains all the sweep and romance of the classic epics such as Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago, with a heroine who remains strong in the face of both personal and political tragedy. An enthralling tale of courage, survival, and hope, Anna Maria's story is at once timeless and timely." -India Edghill, author of Queenmaker

"In young Anna Maria, Martin has created a character we learn to love and cheer for as she matures in this turbulent time." Joci Tilsen for BookSense, a consortium of 1200 independent booksellers

"[Push Not the River] holds readers because of its cast of well-developed characters and the need to see how Anna and her young son will survive the latest crisis." Kathy Piehl, Library Journal

"Aristocrats and peasants, patriots and traitors come alive in this story, and the Polish soul is beautifully illuminated through ancient myths, folkways, and wisdoms. With his juxtaposition of the personal and political, Martin weaves a compelling tale of transformation--both of a remarkable young woman and her remarkable nation."
--Jennifer Donnelly, author of The Tea Rose

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

An August 2006 BookSense Pick:

An enticing blend of history and fiction set in 19th-century Poland, with characters you come to care about as you share their joys and disappointments. James Conroyd Martin will please readers who might not usually consider historical fiction." --Nicola Rooney, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI, for BookSense, a network of 1200 independent booksellers

"Entertaining…fans of historical romance will find much to enjoy in this sprawling epic." -Publishers Weekly

"Compelling...a moving and fascinating winner." --Polish American Journal

"Polish history fans will be riveted." --Kirkus Reviews

"Readers will revel in this engrossing tale of courage, family loyalty, and the Polish nation." --Historical Novels Review

"If you love reading, Poland, history, historical will love this book!" --Polish Culture Newsletter

"With Napoleon Bonaparte's ill-fated campaign to conquer Russia as a backdrop, Against a Crimson Sky manages to turn the wily emperor's exploitation of Polish patriotism into a classic read that lovers of Push Not the River will devour. James Conroyd Martin brings back the characters that made his first novel so compelling, deftly weaving their daily lives into the panorama of war and turmoil that consumed Poland in the early nineteenth century. He portrays a world of hardship and heart in marvelously rendered 'little pieces of happiness stolen from a tapestry of turmoil, war, and separation.'" --Leonard Kniffel, Editor-in-chief of American Libraries and author of A Polish Son in the Motherland: An American's Journey Home

"I was both enthralled and educated by this story of a changing family in a changing Poland. You don't have to have read Push Not the River to get the most from this sequel, but after finishing Against a Crimson Sky you'll want to--just as you'll be rooting for another book from James Conroyd Martin." --Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of Around Again

Publishers Weekly
Martin (Push Not the River) continues his fictionalized account of the life of Polish countess Anna Maria Berezowska in this entertaining sequel that follows Anna through the chaotic years of the Napoleonic wars. These are trying times for her beloved Poland ("Europe's plaything"), but Anna finds happiness in her marriage to the handsome Count Jan Stelnicki and in her three children. But because the book takes place in early 19th-century Poland, tragedy continues to dog her (in the earlier novel, she was raped and forced into a loveless marriage), including the death of a son during Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign. Because of their prominence, the Stelnickis have a front-row seat to history: while her husband and sons fight for Poland's independence, Anna is part of the Warsaw social scene that wines and dines Napoleon after he liberates Poland from Russian rule. Martin provides a panoramic view of Europe during a time of enormous change and in all its sanguinary excesses. His characters could benefit from more depth and his narrative drama from more realism, but fans of historical romance will find much to enjoy in this sprawling epic. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Martin takes up the story of Jan Stelnicki, Anna Maria Berekowska, and Anna's cousin, Zofia, immediately after the close of Push Not the River (2003). Miraculously, the trio survive Russia's 1794 conquest of Poland and make their way to Anna's family estate, where Anna marries Jan. When Napoleon's ambitions set him against Poland's enemies, many in the Polish military, including Jan and his best friend, Pawel, join the emperor's ranks. By the time of the winter retreat from Moscow in 1812, Anna and Jan's sons are among the troops enduring hardships and death. Accounts of battles and campaigns fill many pages, and subplots abound, including activities of the Masonic Brotherhood, the relationship between Anna and Zofia's daughters, and machinations of a corrupt local official. But swirling activity on battlefields and in ballrooms can't substitute for character development. The book might hold some appeal for devotees of Polish political history or fans of Push Not the River. It is unlikely, however, to attract readers to that novel or possible sequels.-Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Four Polish aristocrats negotiate the upheavals of the Napoleonic era. Martin's second takes up where his first, Push Not the River (2003)-based on the actual diaries of Countess Anna Berezowska-leaves off. Anna's scheming cousin, Countess Zofia, has saved her life during flight across a bridge from a Warsaw suburb sacked by the Russians. Rescued from drowning by a handsome peasant and nursed back to health, Zofia returns to Warsaw, pregnant, to take up residence in her suitor Count Pawel's townhouse. Meanwhile, Anna (elevated to Princess by King Stanislaw) has fled to her country estate, Topolostan. She marries true love Jan, who attempts to love her son Jan Michal, product of a rape. Anna gives Jan a son, Tadeusz. Poland has been partitioned among Austria, Prussia and Russia, and King Stanislaw, one of Zofia's former conquests, is exiled. Zofia, now the mother of Izabel, puts off Pawel's frequent marriage proposals, hoping to marry into the highest strata of the upper crust. Friendship with Charlotte, an ex-patriot French princess, nets Zofia entree to all the best parties. Pawel is embroiled in a Masonic plot to groom Tadeusz to be the next Polish king, a plan threatened by a Prussian spy who also has designs on Anna's estate and person. Jan and Pawel join Napoleon's Polish allied forces, who hope to be rewarded with Polish independence. In Jan's absence, Anna gives birth to his daughter, Basia. Napoleon falls into and too quickly out of Zofia's clutches. With the men perennially at war and her sons in military school, Anna joins Zofia in Warsaw to raise their daughters. Years pass and Napoleon launches his ill-conceived 1812 assault on Moscow. Jan Michal and Tadeusz are soldiers andAnna tends casualties in Warsaw. Poland becomes a Russian Duchy. By the end, Napoleon is on Elba, Anna's family has survived devastating loss and war wounds and Zofia, whose irrepressible bravado steals the show, gets her just deserts. Polish history buffs will be riveted, general readers less so.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Anna Maria Berezowska Series
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.35(w) x 9.49(h) x 1.29(d)

Read an Excerpt

Whom the Gods love die young.
---Polish proverb

Poland 1794
2 November All Souls' Day
Swollen with recent rains, the river heaved and churned, flowing rapidly away from Warsaw, its burden of bodies propelled carelessly along, like so much flotsam.
A partially clad woman clung to something as the current took her. A log? A piece of planking from the broken bridge? Delirious from the fall, she was certain she was dying--or had died. Her faith--or the hazy filaments of a childhood belief that she conjured now--suggested she might expect to ascend into heaven as if on wings. Or plummet to a hell she had thought little about.
But she was being carried in an undulating line--like a weightless twig--through the drumming rush of water. The sparkling interplay of the afternoon sunshine on the water was deceiving, for the river was brutally cold.
The woman's mind inexplicably fastened on to the mythical river that was thought to usher one to the Greek underworld. Her cousin had told her about it--the river Acheron, was it? She dared not open her eyes.
What was she to expect in the underworld? There would be the fee for the ferry boat operator. Did she have any coins? She thought not, and without a coin he would not bring her across. Everyone knew that. Might she use her charms on him? Were charms of her kind taken as legal tender in the underworld? She had her doubts.
Her heart felt the icy fingers of the river upon it. How was she to account for her life? The things she had done?
The numbing water seemed to run faster now--like her fear--rushing her to her fate.
The ancient Poles had believed that those who died by drowning were doomed to become water spirits, forever residing in the waters where they had met death. She imagined Marzanna, Goddess Death, waiting for her at the river's end, dressed in white and carrying her scythe.
The woman pushed the Polish deity from her mind. At the age of twenty, she had run out of time. So? What of it? She had often proclaimed that the years of her youth were ducats to be spent. Wishing she had lived a better life was useless. Just as well, she thought--she had never been one for apologies. Or regrets.
She was cold, cold to the bone. She took in a mouthful of water and coughed. Despite the urge, she knew not to move a hand to her face. To do so would cause her to lose her grip, and the river would draw her to its bottom. Her arms and hands were frozen in position, locked on to the object they were holding . . . holding.
And if God was the Christian God of her parents' beliefs, she wondered, would he forgive her?
With the numbing cold, she felt darkness descending--and the angry resignation that death was imminent. It was as certain as the fall of night's curtain. . . . Dog's blood! How had she come to such an ignominious end?
• *
The villagers who had hurried down to the river's edge stared in horror at the cargo the River Vistula was carrying past them. Those transfixed with wide eyes were mostly women, their men having gone off to fight with Kosciuszko against the invading forces. An old man gawked much like the others--in silence--as the flotilla of human bodies moved steadily along. Sometimes a corpse became enmeshed in the weeds and foliage at the bank of the river, but the force of other bodies following a similar fateful journey goaded it once again on its way--or the water's strong current drew it down toward the murky bottom.
In disbelief, the old man turned toward Warsaw; the city was a great distance away, twenty miles upriver, but he could see an eerie, orange glow and above that, thick black smoke rising high into the air. Had the capital fallen to the Russians? God help us all, he prayed. Then aloud: "God and the Black Madonna!"
The man's grandson had braved the sight, going close to the shore.
The old man called him back. This was no sight for a sixteen-year-old, even one already wounded in the patriots' cause. The boy seemed not to hear.
"Jerzy, come back!" he called again.
His grandson turned, a queer look on his face, and waved him forward.
Without questioning, the old man obeyed.
When he came to the shore, his eyes widened at the sight that held Jerzy spellbound. A raven-haired woman clung to what looked like planking that had become caught in the thick reeds and tubers at the river's side. Her skirt was red as blood, and she was naked above the waist. She was both young and beautiful, . . . Something about her told him she must certainly be noble.
The old man saw now what Jerzy had seen. Little bubbles at her mouth. Damn!
The woman was gasping for breath. She was alive!
The peasant understood what his grandson meant to do and moved closer to assist.
Jerzy immediately stepped into the water, reaching for the woman with one arm while the other linked him to his grandfather and to the river's bank.
Jerzy tugged at one of the woman's arms, trying to force her to let go of what had held her afloat. Her skin was nearly blue. "Let go! Let go!" he cried.
She remained insensible to his directions. The mouth seemed to twist and tighten. Her clawlike hands held fast.
The current spun her body now, pulling her, whipping her legs and lower body out toward the river's middle, as if the river had mighty hands that would not allow her to be rescued.
Jerzy held on, persisting in loosening her grip, pulling back one finger, then another. At last her hand came free and came to clasp his as he pulled her to him. Her other hand willingly released that which had held her afloat the long distance from Warsaw, and as the old man aided his grandson in pulling the woman to safety, he saw that she had set free the red uniformed body of a Russian soldier, its mustachioed face blue and bloated beneath the waters.

Meet the Author

James Conroyd Martin is a longtime teacher of English and Creative Writing whose acclaimed first novel, Push Not the River, was based on the diary of Anna Maria BerezowskaBerezowski, a Polish countess. Against a Crimson Sky allows for Martin to freely imagine how life may have continued to unfold for Anna among the fascinating people and events of the Napoleonic era. He is currently working on his third novel.

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Against a Crimson Sky 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read James Conroyd Martin's first novel, PUSH NOT THE RIVER, when it was released in 2001. I found it captivating and thrilling on the scale of Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND, which seems to be the benchmark for all epic novels (and by the way, any Hollywood producers reading this, PUSH NOT THE RIVER would make an equally thrilling and, I'm sure, lucrative film project as that book's film version). I was quickly caught up in PUSH NOT THE RIVER, a world I knew very little about when beginning the journey. I really could not put the book down and read it straight through. In the ensuing years, since reading Mr. Martin's first novel, the characters and their dramatic historic experiences never left me. Mr. Martin's characters visited my imagination from time to time over the last five years, when I least expected them. They were always welcome guests. Upon reading a press release that Mr. Martin was writing a follow-up book to PUSH NOT THE RIVER called AGAINST A CRIMSON SKY, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I wondered if he could match the high standard of writing he demonstrated in his first book, and if I would get as involved in its sequel. AGAINST A CRIMSON SKY did not disappoint. From the first page of AGAINST A CRIMSON SKY I had no doubts that Mr. Martin is not just a one-book wonder. I was drawn in from the beginning. It had been several years since I read the first book. Within a very few pages I was reminded who these characters were, and all they had experienced in the first book. I still knew these people and the Poland of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. And I cared about them deeply. Once Mr. Martin had quickly reintroduced me to his characters, the ride began. I was immediately swept into the chaos and madness of the Napoléonic vision for a new Europe, and that excitement lasted until I closed the book after reading the final page. I have no doubt that AGAINST A CRIMSON SKY would be equally as compelling and thrilling to any person who had not had not read the first novel. For anyone who enjoyed PUSH NOT THE RIVER, it's new companion book, AGAINST A CRIMSON SKY, is a welcome new friend. For those who are only acquainted with the second book, I have no doubt it stands as a complete work by itself. And I can't imagine those people not wanting to then read the first book. It holds up as a complete work in itself as well. I thoroughly enjoyed both. A few years ago, Polish jokes were taken for granted as humorous, harmless and accurate representations of Poles. Mr. Martin obliterates those stereotypes and misconceptions. After reading both PUSH NOT THE RIVER and AGAINST A CRIMSON SKY, and learning of the nobility of these progressive, proud and oppressed people, I'm ashamed of every Polish joke I ever told or laughed at.
harstan More than 1 year ago
While fleeing the Russian assault on Warsaw, the arrogant Countess Zofia falls off a suburban bridge into the River Vistula only to be rescued by a teenage peasant and his grandfather. When she recovers, she returns to the capital to stay at the home of her suitor Count Pawel, whose previous offer of marriage she has rejected as Zofia plans to wed Napoleon. However, she is carrying a child so Zofia must modify her plans for now as the Little Emperor remains her ultimate objective.--------------- At the same time, Zofia¿s cousin Anna has married her true love Lord Jan Stelnicki, who tries to be a father to her son Jan Michal, an offspring of a rape (see PUSH NOT THE RIVER). Anna soon gives birth to their son, Tadeusz at time when supoerpowers Austria, Prussia and Russia divide the nation and force the Polish King Stanislaw into exile who seeks help from Napoleon. As Zofia, who has given birth to a daughter, manipulates her way up the aristocratic elite ladder, Pawel plots to place Tadeusz on the throne, and Jan joins the resistance while his wife worries and rusticates raising their two sons alone even as the years move on-------------------- AGAINST A CRIMSON SKY continues the saga of Anna Berezowska and her family as Poland is caught in a deadly vise from its more powerful neighbors. The story line provides a feel for the history, but is more a historical romance spanning over two decades of two people (Jan and Anna) trying to do what they feel is right for their country yet also keep their loved ones safe. In many devious ways Zofia is the star of the tale as a Lady Macbeth plotting at the cost of others (collateral damage) to achieve her goal. Fans of Polish historical tales and Regency era romances but in central Europe will enjoy James Conroyd Martin¿s fine sequel.------- Harriet Klausner
JAM88 More than 1 year ago
Absolutely one of the best books I've ever read! It's addicting, thrilling, and just one of those books where you are instantly in love with the characters. Definitely read Push Not the River first... both amazing books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Historical fiction is my favorite genre-both for intriguing reading and for bringing a personal dimension to events that are usually portrayed in a dry, factual way. James Conroyd Martin's book, Against a Crimson Sky, is the best of all possible worlds: a well-plotted, well-written, fascinating account of a strong and unique heroine. The setting in Poland is the piece de resistance: my ancestors, while not of the nobility (minor or otherwise), were Polish, and Martin's book brings to life a time and place that has been difficult for me to imagine. Against a Crimson Sky continues the story, begun in the author's first novel, Push Not the River (St. Martin's Press, 2003) of Anna Maria Berezowska, an ancestor of Martin's friend, John A. Stelnicki. The Stelnicki family kept Anna's diary, written in her teens, sealed in wax for several decades and only recently translated it from the original Polish. Set in partitioned Poland in the 1790s, some of the events in Push Not the River seem hard to believe: Anna's dangerous winter journey and Zofia's promiscuous behavior among others. As the story develops, however, both the individual characters and the historical events taking place in Poland bring this important era in Poland's history vividly to life. As the book closes, Poland has been erased from the map of Europe by those who feared her Third of May Constitution, the first democratic constitution in Europe. Anna's stormy early years take a turn to what she hopes will be a quiet life with her handsome suitor, Jan Stelnicki. Against a Crimson Sky picks up where Push Not the River ended. Anna's diary did not continue past 1794, therefore Martin had to imagine Anna and Jan's life over the next 20 years. His imagination is more than equal to the events laid out for him in the diary: the emotion and turmoil of the first book are not abated in the second. Anna becomes Jan's wife and is mother to three children, only two of whom are Jan's. A strong Polish woman struggling during bitter and lonely times, Anna does whatever is necessary to keep her children safe from those who would manipulate or harm them. Her cousin Zofia's eyebrow-raising exploits add another bittersweet note to the story, and provide a glimpse into the life of the Polish szlachta (minor nobility) as well as some of the Polish social customs of that era. Poland's situation at the turn of the 19th century provides a riveting setting. It is the time of Napoleon, who plays on the hopes and dreams of the Polish people, promising much in return for their support of his ambitious plans. Hoping for a return to an independent Poland, Jan joins those who fight for Napoleon. Ultimately, his sons participate in Napoleon's ill-fated march to Moscow, where Poland's hopes of liberty are crushed along with Napoleon's reputation. While Anna and Jan's story will captivate any reader who enjoys historical fiction, Poland's story is even more compelling, especially for those of us whose ancestors originated there. The ideals and strength of these determined people, who vowed never to lose their national identity-and did not, through many years of partition and expatriation-will resonate with anyone of Polish ancestry. The Polish-American community has recognized Martin's contributions. The American Institute of Polish Culture recently chose him as a Gold Medal recipient, to be awarded in January 2007. But even beyond that, James Martin is a fine writer, whose skills in his first book are even more evident in his second. Whether or not he chooses Poland as the subject matter, I eagerly await his next book. Visit James Conroyd Martin's website. Reviewer: Nancy Maciolek Blake