As the early-16th-century Peasants’ War tears Palatinate Germany apart, Pötzsch (The Werewolf of Bamber, 2015, etc.) follows a young noblewoman’s epic quest, sparked by a signet ring once owned by the legendary Barbarossa—Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor.
Agnes, preferring falconry to needlepoint, is the teenage daughter of Philipp von Erfenstein, Trifels Castle’s knight castellan. Her best friend is Mathis, son of Trifels’ blacksmith. Adventures begin when Agnes’ falcon, Parcival, returns from hunting, Barbarossa’s ring tied to his talons. Simultaneously, the countryside is beset by bandits led by Black Hans, a rogue knight. Since Mathis is fascinated with firearms and can work alchemy with gunpowder, von Erfenstein charges him with building a cannon to destroy Black Hans’ fortress. Pötzsch’s tale thereafter spins off in multiple directions. As Barbarossa’s ring sparks visions of past lives, Agnes is forced to marry a dastardly count, then she’s captured by camp-following white slavers and forced to loot battlefield corpses. Mathis is shanghaied into gunsmithing for peasant rebels led by a diabolical hunchback. After battles, imprisonment, and wounds, the pair reunites, learning that Barbarossa’s ring is linked to secrets hidden at a monastery. Central casting provides a wise old priest; a minstrel knight with surprisingly wicked sword skills; a merciless assassin dressed all in black; and dozens of distinctive bit players. The dialogue is offered in modern syntax, sometimes slipping into anachronisms, but Pötzsch paints picturesque landscapes, whether it’s damp, dark castles, the stink of a medieval tannery, or whirlpool-plagued Rhine River rapids, and offers esoteric information about arquebuses, falconets, landsknecht mercenaries, the Holy Lance, and a synopsis of the Hohenstaufen and Habsburg aristocracies.
Combine Princess Bride with Germanic history circa 1500, add a dash of Lord of the Rings, and there’s a week of good fun in this 600-page-plus tome.