Conrad Stargard – transported to Poland's thirteenth century by accident – has in the last decade built himself an industrial base, an army that destroyed the invading Mongols that would have raveged Poland (as they did on this time line), and in general pretty much ended up a world power – even if he keeps insisting he's "just an engineer."
Now a few years after the destruction of the Mongols, with Conrad's "Christian Federation" coming along well and Poland comfortably entering the industrial age while it digests his conquests, he decides it's time to explore the rest of the world, with a goal towards finding the resources he needs – especially rubber!
Forming a branch of his army called the "Explorer Corps" he sends them out in his new concrete ships to explore first the Baltic, and then it's off to the Amazon...and rubber!
I hate to say this, but this was almost a painful book to read. I rather liked the "Lord Conrad" series when it first came out. Okay, improbabilities abounded and increased with every book until finally ending up in the fourth with multi-million-man Mongol armies invading Poland (probably because by this time Frankowski had realized that anything less – anything realistic
– would just be too much of a walkover by the Poland he'd had Conrad build and thus lack any sort of drama). It was still fun in its odd little way.
By the (unexpected) fifth book, things started to go downhill. There was no real point to it...the war against the Mongols was over
(even if he did wave his hands and create a whole 'nother Mongol army to fight in the beginning of the book) and the political machinations of his wife and the execution of the Teutonic Knights just lack the drama, the whole story,
that the first four books had as a whole.
And now, with the sixth, the slope increases...
To begin with, the first sixty, seventy pages are filled with the now cliché "diary" recountings of yet another character, Josep, as he tells of his
years leading up to the Mongol war. Okay, one recap of the same story we've read before was fine, two was okay, three was starting to get annoying, four was
annoying and now the Fifth...Telling...Yet...Again of the "last decade" is just out and out padding (does anyone
in this altered Poland do anything
but write diarys?). It tells us nothing new (nothing, that is, that couldn't be told in ten pages, at most – assuming this was useful new info in the first place, which it isn't) and even uses some of the exact same wording
as some of the previous books! Mind you, that's "exact same wording" from completely different
characters, with completely different
Let me make this clear: Female French near-nobility, minor knights, blacksmiths, young peasants, and apprentice Polish bakers all use the exact same wording to describe events.
Frankowski made no attempt whatsoever to differenciate between the characters, or even allow for how wildly different each of them should be. He just "Cut & Pasted" hunks of "diary" from one book to the next, to the next, to the...
And "Cut & Paste" is no way to make a novel!
(BTW, Frankowski has really
got to get over his urge to tell everyone he knows how to build concrete boats. Really)
Then, finally, we get to new story. The exploration of the Baltic is nearly interesting, if rather limited. Frankowski needed to actually have a point
to this exploration, or some drama, or something. Watching five (or was it six? Can't remember) people discovering the wonders of the Midnight Sun (and why didn't Conrad warn them of that – and how did his new, extensive, classes for the Exploration Corps members miss it), gnats, and thousands of reindeer march by for six months is very nearly as dull to the reader as it was to the Corps members.
Then Conrad sends his Exploration Corps off to the Amazon to look for rubber.
It's odd to describe a series of disasters, deaths, and unpleasant surprises as "tedious" – but that's what I have to do. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, but nothing really did. Oh, the Indians started dying off of European diseases and the European's of the Indians' (which, In Real Life®, I can't think of any, save for probably syphilis. Most of the Deadly Jungle Diseases that the Amazon's known for today are Old World in origin) – something which anyone with half a brain could have been able to figure out would happen beforehand, yet Conrad didn't. But apart from that, and some scenes that seem to have been swiped from films like Anaconda
, they just go up the river, dying off as they go, then come back down...dying as they go.
And the ending! Frankowski could have done something interesting with the problem of
preventing the spread of disease in the Americas. But no: Conrad's "Cousin From the Future©" drops in and delivers a universal cure that magically solves all the problems. Sheesh!
Do I have to say that I don't
recommend this book?