Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

There are those special moments in the life of any avid reader when one discovers a book or author out of the blue and from then on can't imagine never having read him before. For me, one such author was discovered at my grandparents' apartment in Brooklyn when I found a long forgotten book on the shelf in my Dad's old bedroom : Knight Of The Cross: A Story Of The Crusades by Frederick L. Coe. This stirring tale of a young Viking who is healed after a battle by a traveling holy man and whose life is then pledged to serving the new Christian religion managed to combine action and pedagogy in a way that most modern authors would hesitate at even attempting. I read it so many times as a kid that the dust jacket is long gone; the binding is cracked; and the cover is faded. When he was old enough I gave it my oldest son and he devoured it too.

Then, twenty years later, W. S. Kuniczak began publishing new translations of the novels of a forgotten Nobel laureate, Henryk Sienkiewicz. Actually, not totally forgotten; his Quo Vadis? remained an all-time best-seller, in the manner of The Robe and Ben-Hur. But his cycle of Polish historical novels had long been out of print, owing in part to their awkward original translations by Jeremiah Curtin. In their newer versions they resembled nothing so much as the Star Wars movies, with a young hero joined by a trio of knights, including two who have to have influenced R2D2 and C3PO. Here again were tales of derring-do, patriotism and Christian faith.

So when J. Victor Tomaszek wrote to us and offered his own novel, a conscious sequel to Sienkiewicz's On the Field of Glory, we snapped it up. Sienkiewicz had died before completing his story of the second Siege of Vienna, so Mr. Tomaszek finishes it for him.

The story opens in the Tatra Mountains, where young Boleslaw Radok desperately tries to protect the family farm from wolves and raiders. His father is away fighting the King's wars and has not been able to train his son for combat. But he has been raised on stories of the glory of battle by his grandfather.

When their village is attacked once again, grandfather is killed, but the brigands are defeated by the timely intervention of four knights. They have come seeking to fulfill the final request Boleslaw's fallen father, to deliver the elder's sword to the son. The four, of course, stay on to train the boy and then take him with them to join King Jan Sobieski's war to liberate Vienna from the siege of the Turks under Kara Mustafa.

There, our heroes play a central role in the Battle of Vienna (1683), which saw Sobieski and an army of 80,000 defeat 130,000 Turks. Sobieski himself led the greatest cavalry charge in history and the tide was turned against Ottoman incursions into Europe.

The author proves a worthy successor to the tradition of Sienkiewicz, Coe and others like Alfred Duggan (whose novels also captivated me as a boy). For not only does he give us a rousing tale of adventure, he also infuses the text with beautiful passages expressing love of Polish patriotism, liberty and democracy and Christian duty. It is a novel that is just as edifying as it is exciting, a real Boys' Own throwback.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Historical Fiction
J. Tomaszek Links:

    -GOOGLE BOOK: Tatra Eagle
    -AUTHOR PAGE: J. Victor Tomaszek (Zero Books)
    -INTERVIEW: 10 Questions with J. Victor Tomaszek and James Patrick Sr. (Ethan Jones Books, 5/01/14)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Tatra Eagle (Good Reads)

Book-related and General Links: