Well, in the history of Historical Epics, this has got to be a doozy. Many nations have tales like this one, but not all of them are as much of a ripping yarn. You’ve got your Ramayana‘s and your Iliad‘s, but this one is a little closer to the heart because it is a Western tale of knights, chivalry, honour, love, betrayal, pitched battles, desperation and lofty ideals of nationhood.

It’s also 1000 pages long and is obviously what Michener looked to when drafting his tomes.

The novel is set during the C17th of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, at which time the dreaded Cossacks have revolted, and are butchering or selling the peasantry into Tartar slavery. Evil damn Cossacks… Our protagonists are knights of the Commonwealth, and they become ever-deeply embroiled in the uprising, attempting to retain their virtue in a world rapidly going to hell.

The background to the novel is a series of changes sweeping Poland in the late C19th. The author was attempting to write a nationalistic novel that ‘stirred the blood’ and drew the people together. And in doing so, he has reputed captured the character of Polish nationality identity, and many of the mores and morals of the gentry of his time (including a very interesting abhorrence of the mistreatment of Jews). Consequently, other than the laddish depiction of “war as hell” we’re given a great fictional snapshot of late-Renaissance Poland.

So, if you can stomach all that, then you have a fun, enjoyable read. There are great and loveable characters, truly evil bad guys, witches, saints, and more. There’s also a love interest.

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