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With Fire and Sword

A book by Henryk Sienkiewicz

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Reassessed, this one's worth five stars!

  • Feb 11, 2000
Rating:
+5
I'd formerly reviewed this book and assigned it a mere four stars. But, truth be told, it has continued to resonate in my memory and so I think it only fair that I return and offer an upgraded assessment now. This is a marvelous adventure, set in exotic (for us here in America, anyway)locales and times, on the southern plains of what is today the Russian state, a land which was once under the domain of the Polish nobility. Recounting the progress of four warrior-types as they seek to carry a message into the south from their Polish overlords, this novel takes us back to times of strife and empire as the Cossacks awaken and rise up in the face of the Polish nation which then dominated them. The Cossacks are portrayed with much sympathy and understanding but, ultimately, this is a Polish tale and the Polish warrior class (the "pans" or knights) are the heroes of this epic. The message to be carried south by our heroes is finally rendered futile in the face of the stirrings of the Cossacks and the four adventurers must split up to make their separate ways in the face of the great rebellion. The progress each man makes and the battles and subterfuges he must engage in to save himself (and others dependent on him) make up the subject matter of this tale -- along with the ultimately doomed romantic stirrings of the Cossack hero Bohun who cannot have the Polish girl he dreams of, though he is torn between his love for her and loyalty to his own kind. There are chases and great battles here, along with blood-stirring sword duels (the little swordsman, Michael, is a charmer and certainly one of the least likely of heroes). And there is manipulation of men and armies on the great steppes of south Russia. All of this comes, at last, to a thundering end in one vast siege of the Polish forces trapped in the south by the Cossack rising. This is a tale which is second to few and surely one which will stand among the best historical adventures ever written including Yoshikawa's MUSASHI, Clavell's SHOGUN, Scott's IVANHOE and Cooper's THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, among others. If you like good historical tales I'd also recommend THE GOLDEN WARRIOR by Hope Muntz (a little known and now out-of-print rendering of the great struggle between Harold and William for the throne of England in the eleventh century). Finally, and if you're still interested, I've written one of these tales myself and it's also available here on amazon.com. It's called THE KING OF VINLAND'S SAGA and it's about medieval Norse adventurers first setting foot in North America, a land then thought to be a veritable "New World".

Stuart W. Mirsky
author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #240
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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Wiki

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth still controlled eastern Europe in 1647, but during that year everything changed. The first sparks appeared in the Ukraine, where a domestic dispute between Bohdan Hmyelnitzki and his neighbor mushroomed into a full-blown Cossack rebellion against the gentry. Long-smoldering resentments flashed into a wildfire of rape, pillage, and murder as the peasants joined the Cossack army and fought their way toward Warsaw, bringing with them the dreaded hordes of Tartars from the east. Fighting in this epic conflict, Yan Skshetuski, commander of armored knights in the prince's army, falls in love with the beautiful Helen, only to have her stolen by the Cossacks. Thus, the string of ensuing battles becomes not just a struggle for Poland's survival but a search by Skshetuski and his fellow knights for Helen, the symbol of all Poland was and now stands to lose. With Fire and Sword , the first installment of Sienkiewicz's "Trilogy," will take its place beside such works as the Iliad as one of the great pieces of epic literature. The Polish author, winner of the 1905 Nobel Prize for Literature, captures the historical essence of a culture in eclipse, expressing it through characters at once larger than life and engagingly human. While his Quo Vadis? is widely known, until now the "Trilogy" has been virtually unread outside Poland because it lacked a readable translation and was suppressed by Poland's Communist government. However, Kuniczak's magnificent ...
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Details

ISBN-10: 0020820445
ISBN-13: 978-0020820444
Author: Henryk Sienkiewicz
Publisher: Collier Books

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