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.
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.
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.
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 fiction...you 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