It’s just a jump to 1462, and then a step to Krakow.
So due to something, no idea what, Mom had us jump from the sixth century to the fifteenth for the brief space of one book, The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric Kelly. Or maybe my list is mixed up. Who knows.
It’s okay. Not mind-blowingly amazing or terrible, just kind of in the middle. It tells the story of a Ukrainian family, the Charnetskis, as they work to hide themselves and the Great Tarnov Crystal in Krakow from evil Tatars. It has a rather unlikely blend of political intrigue, religion, alchemical mysticism, and the ever-popular plot device of the plucky kids who save the day and obviously fall madly in love and marry someday.
Basically this family is supposed to keep this crystal thing safe from the Tatars but they totally mess it up and it gets stolen by their next-door-neighbor, Nicholas Kreutz, who has been instructing some guy in alchemy and also basically blew up their house while stealing it from the murderous Tartar who was trying to steal it first. Now this student, Johann Tring, is basically the fifteenth century version of a person who dresses like a vampire, doesn’t understand all the negative fuss about devil worship, and hey this black magic stuff is pretty cool! He’s creepy, overconfident, and has no boundaries. He keeps forcing Kreutz into these trances, thinking that SURELY THIS TIME THIS TIME REALLY they’ll discover the secret to making a chrysopoeia. This student has been wanting the philosopher’s stone, which is what this Great Tarnov Crystal thing is, for the same generally optimistic but depressingly unfocused reasons that everyone ever has wanted one: transmutation of base metals into gold! Totally achievable, amirite? I mean, alchemy has been around since Ancient Egypt, and the notion of the philosopher’s stone has only been around since the fourth century C.E.! An old guy and an egotistical student can totally do it on their own.
Spoiler! They can’t. The crystal just reflects Kreutz’s own desires and drives him insane. So he sits there in his apartment worrying over everything and falling into trances while his daughter Elzbietka becomes embroiled in the Charnetski’s problems because wow that Joseph Charnetski kid, such a gentleman and hot into the bargain and he’s promised to protect her, which a fifteen-year-old boy can totally do while helping out his dad as a trumpeter at the city gates and also hiding from murderous Tatars and agonizing over the fact that their house practically exploded. Yeah… for some reason Mr. Charnetski has decided that making sure Joseph knows the Heynal so it can be played properly and on time takes precedence in importance over getting back the crystal that the king of Poland entrusted them with and not dying in the process. Great priorities.
The Heynal has to be played properly, i.e. not all the way through because a weird thing happened like hundreds of years ago a kid died while playing it or something and anyway now nobody ever plays it all the way through, ERGO…. if one were to play it all the way through, while getting attacked by bloodthirsty, magic-rock-hunting Tartars, it would make a great emergency signal to let someone know that GREAT GLOW CLOUD WE’RE BEING KILLED HALP. That’s how Joseph’s reasoning goes, anyway, so he drags Elzbietka even further into his family’s problems and basically their lives rely on the hope that Elzbietka doesn’t sleep right through the trumpeting that has happened every night for hundreds of years like everyone else probably does. Fortunately for them, she’s paranoid now that Joseph’s told her “yeah we might die so if you could get help in the event that we die, that’d be great” so when Joseph and his father are attacked by murderous Tartars and Joseph plays the Heynal all the way through, Elzbietka hears and runs out into the city in the middle of the night to go tell the local law enforcement that possible murder is happening over in a church.
Let me say that again:
A young woman runs out into a city in the dead of night to tell the local law enforcement that she is pretty sure there might be murder happening in a church tower.
Because fifteenth-century teenaged girls would totally just run out into a dark city alone to tell people a murder might be happening.
And because murders totally happened in churches. Especially after that business back in the twelfth century with Thomas Becket.
Nicely done, Eric Kelly.
So yeah the Tatars get beaten, none of the Charnetskis die, the crystal is handed back over to the Charnetskis, though not before burning up half the city. Then when everyone’s handing the crystal over to the king of Poland the king starts to go into a trance looking at it and Kreutz grabs the crystal and flings it into a river. Everyone decides it’s safest there. Then everyone lives happily ever after and in a few years Joseph and Elzbietka get married. Lovely happy ending hurray. Bit cheesy but hey, it works.
Yeah, as I said above, it’s not terrible but it’s not amazing either. Overall, it’s pretty average as romanticized historical novels go.
Tune in next time for still-not-Charlemagne. The guy’s coming soon, I promise. We’ve just got to take a detour over to… somewhere. I don’t actually know. My geography is not great, but I know it’s probably in the same land mass as Poland.