With Fire and Sword

With Fire and Sword

Book - 1991
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Baker & Taylor
Tells the story of soldiers and ordinary citizens caught up in the Cossack Revolt in 1640 Poland

Publisher: New York : Copernicus Society of America with Hippocrene Books, c1991
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780870529740
Characteristics: xvi, 1135 p. ; 24 cm


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Oct 05, 2020

With Fire and Sword, the first book in Sienkiewicz's great historical trilogy, follows the trials and travails of the noble Polish officer Yan Skshetuski, who falls in love with the angelic Helen just before a Cossack revolt plunges the Ukraine into chaos.  The two lovers are aided in their quest to survive and reunite by the clever Zagloba, the puissant Michal, and the giant Longinus, as well as by Yan's cunning squire Zjendjan, even as the storms of war and political intrigue rage around the person of Prince Yeremi, the only man who can save the Commonwealth.

With Fire and Sword offers sweeping, epic romance and adventure.  Unfortunately, it is somewhat unsatisfying.  Unlike in The Deluge, where the central conflict takes place within the main character's heart, the threats here are entirely external.  Even then, the villains, the magnificent rebel chief Hmyelnitzki and the virtuous barbarian Bohun, while they are both complex, interesting characters, recede into the background well before the final act.  Indeed, the ostensible protagonist Skshetuski himself disappears for long stretches in the middle of the novel, eclipsed by the duo of Zagloba and Michal, who would go on to play significant roles in The Deluge before getting their own novel in Fire in the Steppe.  While excellent on its own terms, With Fire and Sword ultimately lacks the apocalyptic, eucatastrophic genius of The Deluge.

Apr 17, 2018

I went into this without any background whatsoever in Polish history (much less Polish culture in the 1600s), but this book absolutely captivated me. It's a historical epic on a grand scale, with wonderful characters whose loves and lives drew me in. It's like reading the best kind of Dumas adventure, but set in a wild world of hussars, Cossacks, Tartars.

Not light reading (in the strictest sense), since it's a dense book, but I ended up carting it with me everywhere regardless, simply because I couldn't put it down.


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