In this second volume of a sweeping trilogy of 17th-century Croatia, the arrival of a baron’s brother-in-law and his men disrupts castle life.
At the end of the first volume of Bald’s (The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down, 2015) series, Resi Kokkinos, the daughter of an Ottoman Greek merchant, had finally started to settle into life in the castle of her new husband, a young Croatian baron named Mauro Baric. She had begun to love her husband, after their dreaded arranged marriage, to learn the customs of the foreign court, and even to make some friends. At the beginning of this new volume, the serenity of the Baric castle is upended with the arrival of Resi’s brother, Patrik, and his brothers in arms. The elder generation orchestrated Resi and Mauro’s marriage to quell a family feud, but the encounter between the hotheaded Patrik and the prideful Mauro brings these buried tensions to the surface. As in Bald’s previous book, the narrative and the research go hand in hand. For instance, the appearance of Patrik’s men—who hail from as far afield as Denmark and Persia—serves as an opportunity to highlight the ethnic complexity of 17th-century Europe and Croatia’s historical role as “the cross-roads of many cultures.” This middle volume is of epic proportions in and of itself. Some readers may lack the patience to wait for the tensions raised in the first pages to come to blows a full hundred pages later. Likewise, the passages devoted to things like the logistics of baking a marzipan cake will likely not satisfy those hungry for sword fights and action. But by the same token, Bald’s attention to the nuances of castle life—including the dreams and labors of servants—is laudable. And in the end, this trilogy is a grand drama. The conflicts, intrigues, and romances among the cast of characters intensify, and readers who have come this far should not only be compelled to read through to the end, but be eagerly awaiting the final installment.
A continuation—and deepening—of a saga set in the Balkans in the early modern period.