A poor archer in medieval Poland takes aim at the love of his life in this epic novel from Martin (Hologram: A Haunting, 2014, etc.).
The anxious Aleksy Gazdecki, a young farmhand, embodies the ethnic and political tensions of Europe during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Born to a Tatar family, he was taken in by Poles and raised a Christian, living with his adoptive family under the leadership of Lord Halicki. Despite his background, Aleksy longs to showcase his talent in archery as a hussar, or soldier, in the service of King Jan Sobieski. He has an unfortunate run-in with Lord Halicki’s sons and realizes that the alluring girl whom he’d seen earlier is their sister, Lady Krystyna. He and she exchange words during a chance encounter; her brothers, though, don’t take kindly to him, and a fight ensues, leading Aleksy and his family to fear Lord Halicki’s wrath. But after a frightening summons, they learn the Lord’s mind is elsewhere, on the incoming siege of Vienna—and, by extension, the rest of Christian Europe—by the Muslim Ottomans. Aleksy is assigned to a humiliating role as a retainer for Krystyna’s brutish brother Roman, and he’s plagued by the prospect of being unable to fight for Poland on his own or pursue Krystyna’s affection. Meanwhile, Krystyna strives to avoid her arranged marriage to Lord Nardolski long enough to find Aleksy again. 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 its historical moment. Underneath the story of the sweethearts’ labyrinthine struggle lingers the question of what it means to fight for one’s country but against one’s relatives—a situation in which Aleksy, as a Tatar, finds himself. 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.