The first volume gives a powerful image of Medieval Poland and of the permanent strife between different ethnic groups in this part of Europe. Willing to liberate themselves from the Polish rule, the Ukrainian Kosaks ally with the Tartars of the Golden Horde against their masters. Taken by surprise by the force of the uprising, the Pollons are thoroughly beaten - but their spirit never broken, despite being forced to retire over and over again, they will dug in at Zbaraz and wait for the royal troups. The young colonel Skrzetuski has completely renounced the hope to find his lover Helena alive - even more, he dreads finding her alive, for she'd certainly be raped and abused. This her lover thinks unsupportable (remember, this is a highly Catholic country, and the morals are very strict). Embittered and hopeless, he's waiting for his death at Zbaraz, for the king has no knowledge of his men peril and no one can go through the Tartar and Kosak siege lines. Famine and disease soon enter the city and the last defenders are reduced to praying for merciful death instead of a life of slavery. Unknown to Skrzetuski, pan Zagloba - one who never does much if he can help it, but manages to be highly praised even for doing nothing - has learned of Helena's whereabouts. Even if he's scared to death of her captor, Bohun, Zagloba has grown to love the young woman as a father, and will face the greatest perils for her sake. He finds her again and takes her to join the queen's ladies of honor. Fearing Skrzetuski's sanity of mind if the girl would be lost again through some twist of fate, his friends keep all news of her secret from him... even if the young man's pain reaches out to all of them. One last hope remains for the defenders of Zbaraz: if one man could break through the siege lines and carry a message to the king, the Pollon army could get there in time to save them. As the first one to volunteer is killed by the Tartars, Skrzetuski grabs the chance of a rapid death instead of starvation and offers to break through to the king... Too late his friends realise that knowing Helena is alive could've stopped him... Completely devoted to his honor, after giving his word to try to escape alive, Skrzetuski faces indescribable horrors and disappears for days - ill, dying, and starving - from the face of the earth - managing to reach the king and deliver his message. He's only half-healed when the siege of Zbaraz is lifted by agreement and his friends join him as he finally meets Helena again. The Kosak uprising lost a lot of force due to internal battling and with the leaving of the hordes (satisfed with the gold they'd gathered), the Pollons managed to turn the fate of the war. Even if not all the historical facts are accurate, this is great literature and a picture in words of a half-savage world struggling towards real civilisation. This is only the first in the historical trilogy (even if they can be actually read apart, and manage different time settings)
With Fire and Sword ? Henryk Sienkiewicz
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 18 years ago
If you are a fan of historic epics with a whirlwind plot, tons of bloody battle scenes, dueling lovers and fascinating characters then "With Fire and Sword" is ideal for you. This is the first part of the renowned Trilogy written by Nobel Prize winning novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz. The novel is a story of a romance between an officer and a young woman. The story is intertwined with the bloody peasant rebellions and Tatar wars which took place in eastern Poland in the 17th century. Sienkiewicz's main credit is the degree of depth which he bestows upon his characters. The characters are full packages of human emotion, desires, fears hate and paradoxes. Personally I vote for Zagloba as my favorite. The historic detail with which the book is written provides the audience an opportunity to witness the events in the eye of their mind. As he does with the characters, Sienkiewicz goes into great detail in describing the surroundings such as the interiors of the castles or battle scenes. The novel is not gory simply for shock effect, the author portrays the battles of the 17th century with brutal honesty. I've read the original Polish version as well as the English and found that the translated edition is very true to the original. The only flaw with the version available is the lack of illustrations, which would be useful for the novice reader.
Ignore the Ukrainian axe grinders, the book is great
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 18 years ago
This is a fantastic book that comes highly recommended, as you will see by reading the full set of 40+ reviews. There are about 3 Ukrainian-Americans, however, who have gone through every review and panned it out of ethnic axe grinding. A shame. Whatever you view on its historical accuracy (it's a novel folks), the values of true honor the book endorses are universal, and the story is a page turner with well-developed characters. Those people who wrote the reviews were highly motivated to write them by the book's excellence. And as for the historical perspective, the fact is that the Polish rule of Ukraine, however harsh by Polish magnates such as those that Sienkiewicz describes, was nothing compared with the bloody repression of Ukrainian culture and language by the Czars. And the Soviet Union destroyed virtually all of Ukraine's religious traditions and starved and executed millions of its people under Stalin. For this the people of the Ukraine can thank Hymelnitsky, who by destroying the unity of the Commonwealth opened the door to the tragic rule of Ukraine by Muscovy. In the end, Sienkiewicz's view of history is vindicated.
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