Friday, October 9, 2020

Romance, Murder, and Politics in Renaissance Poland

I’ve written before about P.K. Adams’s Jagiellonian Mystery series and how much I enjoy reading a fast-paced detective story set not in the well-traveled (fictionally speaking) halls of sixteenth-century Western Europe but in Renaissance Poland-Lithuania, a time and place much closer to my own area of historical interest.

When the first book, Silent Water, came out in the summer of 2019, I interviewed the author on this blog. You can find out more about the genesis of the series and its setting in that interview.

But when Jagiellon Mystery no. 2, Midnight Fire, appeared this month, it seemed like a good time to reach out to people who prefer to listen to interviews while they’re working or exercising or just letting off steam. Hence my latest New Books in Historical Fiction podcast episode, which explores some of the same territory as the written Q&A but extends the story forward by twenty-five years, just as the series takes a leap from 1518–1520 to 1545.

So read on to find out more, and stay tuned for future announcements about the joint murder mystery that P. K. and I have produced and hope to see published over the course of the next year or two. Yes, as I’ve mentioned before, we decided it was too good a coincidence to waste—she knowing a lot about sixteenth-century Poland and I about sixteenth-century Russia. Magical things can happen if you take a ride outside your comfort zone, and reading about Bona Sforza and her troubled relationship with her son, Zygmunt August, is one place to start.

As always, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

Most novels about the sixteenth century written in English take place in Italy, France, or England—with the occasional foray into Spain or Portugal. P. K. Adams’ Jagiellonian Mystery series is a welcome exception. Set at the glittering Italianate court of King Zygmunt I of Poland/Lithuania and his son, Zygmunt August, these books map fictional plots onto real historical incidents to create fast-paced, fluid stories that are as much about the tensions of a culture in transition as what drives a person to commit murder.

In Midnight Fire (Iron Knight Press, 2020), the heroine, Caterina Konarska (formerly Sanseverino) returns to Zygmunt I’s court twenty-five years after the events of Silent Water, the first book in the series. Caterina and her husband undertake the long journey from Italy in search of a cure for their young son, Giulio, who suffers from mysterious fevers that have stumped the doctors in Bari.

In Kraków Caterina discovers a court far different from the one she left a quarter-century before. The old king is dying; his wife, Bona Sforza of Milan and Bari, struggles to hold on to power; and their son, Zygmunt August, threatens to cause an international scandal by marrying his beautiful but disreputable Lithuanian mistress, Barbara Radziwiłł.

Queen Bona offers Caterina a deal: persuade Zygmunt August to give up Barbara, and Bona will arrange an appointment for Giulio with Poland’s premier physician. Seeing no alternative, Caterina accepts. But as she sets off for Vilnius with her son, she has no idea of the danger she faces or the layers of treachery she will encounter in Zygmunt August’s Renaissance palace.

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