REVIEW: Krakow Waltz by Kate Allan
“The Honourable Miss Annabel Wells needs to catch a husband to save her reputation – and fast. But even in her dire straits she can’t bring herself to accept Mr Henry Champion, a gentleman without property or pedigree, no matter what she feels about him. She marries a foreign count but when her husband is killed in duel will Henry come all the way across Europe to the rescue or is too late for a second chance for love?”
Dear Ms Allan,
A friend described this book as having a stuck up heroine which initially interested me not at all but then I remembered having read one of your previous books shortly after Dear Author started and liking the writing. Not long after my friend mentioned the book, it was offered to us to review and I decided to give it a shot. After all, it isn’t often that a Regency is set mainly in Poland!
I love the setting and the fact that it’s used well. The land and people and politics of the time become an integral part of the story though it took a while before I and the hero realized just how dangerous it was for Annabel to remain in Poland after her first husband’s death and that it’s not just about a family land inheritance. I do wish this had been elaborated on a bit more as I’m the first to admit that I know less than I should about Polish history, especially this time when it appears great things could have happened. But then Poland got sold down the river after WWII as well and for similar reasons. I love that Annabel thinks dearly of this land she’s lived in for 9 years and feels at home there.
Henry isn’t a Duke. He isn’t even titled nor is he rich. Wow, you certainly took a risk with that but I love it. It makes his reasons for not speaking up for Annabel 9 years ago believable. And even now he’s still not sure whether or not she’ll welcome his advances. But as a minor hero of Waterloo (I adore this too, he’s not some “save the day” savior of the battle) and aide to Wellington, he’s sort of made his mark and has some gravitas now. Of course he still has a wry sense of self deprecating humor which made me laugh. Annabel doesn’t regret her decision of 9 years ago. It was the correct one for her at the time and she’s enjoyed her life in Poland.
Despite the fact that they met 9 years ago, neither Henry nor Annabel has mooned over the thought of the other for all that time. When faced with the reunion, each vaguely wonders about the other but no one’s life was put on hold with breathless anticipation and “never having forgotten each other.” Thank you. It’s definitely a two steps forward one step back romance. The reasons for the steps back make sense and fit the story but each interruption of them getting to the point in the romance began to get on my nerves a bit. Henry’s bungled proposal at the end helped make it worth the wait. But…though Annabel’s reasons for fearing marital relations also fit her background and I love the fact that Henry takes them seriously, his explanation/reasurrance followed by a brief 10 second contemplation by Annabel sure seems fast to overcome all her fears.
Marek, Count Ralenski, is a fun addition – also with a great sense of humor and down to earth realism. His character makes me want to investigate Poland’s support of Napoleon. He’s a great friend to Henry and Annabel and I hope we’ll see more of him and his courtship. He’s got the soul of a poet as he gently takes Henry to task for ignoring Annabel as if she was an insignificant flower. Sometimes heroes need a swift kick and Ralenski’s the man for the job. However, I felt that there isn’t much to the villain Zakonski beyond being a bully boy. He’s bad from start to end and I’m still not sure if his interest in Annabel was personal or just for the land. I would have liked to have seen more of why you made him the villain.
Helena and Robards are nice additions to the story. I can see them being “in the know” about their respective employers due to their close relationships with Annabel and Henry. I also like their common sense and support for the main characters. Henry’s sister Jane is delightful and how she deftly manages his romance – or tries to before Henry finally takes matters into his own hands and gets Annabel for himself. Jane would be a fun s-i-l to have.
Sometimes my first thoughts about whether or not to try a book turn out to be totally wrong as is the case here. Good thing I’m allowed to change my mind about what I read and review! Though a Regency in a world full of Regencies, it’s also different and takes some chances that I think will reward those looking for something other than the usual Nobleman/Spy/Rake books. Thanks for offering it to us. B
I love Henry. He’s a true gentleman, in every sense of the word.
This book does sound intriguing. My paternal grandparents were born in Poland, so I’m interested in reading more about it. I love that you say that “The land and people and politics of the time become an integral part of the story.”
Reading your review reminded me of a sub-titled Polish movie I had seen some years ago, so I searched the interwebs and found it. The movie is based on a famous poem published in 1834 and called “”Pan Tadeusz”” and set in Lithuania which was part of Poland until partitioned off. The synopsis for the movie does explain why many Poles supported Napoleon. The movie would be a great one for your Friday movie reviews too I think:
Poland and Lithuania had shared a 400-year link until 1795 when the country was partitioned by the huge conquering nations around them. The fiercely patriotic Poles looked towards Napoleon to defeat Russia and reinstate their sovereignty and so thousands of Poles joined the French forces. Hence this story is told by Poles in exile in Paris after the defeat of Napoleon as they look back nostalgically on the summer before the war, when there was still a chance Poland would be restored.
In 1811, twenty years after a horrific night of blood shed between two rival families, the Soplicas, supporters of Russia, and the Horeszkos, in favour of independence, Count Horezkos decides to transfer his inherited family estate to the magistrate Soplica. However when he learns from the loyal family servant Gervais (Daniel Olbrychski) of the bloody massacre inside the castle walls he decides he will break his agreement with Soplica and restore the family honour. Meanwhile, Tadeusz (Michal Zebrowski), the handsome nephew of Soplica, returns home from university and falls for 14-year-old Sosia (Alicja Bachleda-Curus), a member of the rival family…..
@Merrian: Thanks for the suggestion! I’ve added it to my Netflix queue but based on some comments there, I think I’d better research it a bit before watching it so I know more of what’s going on in it.
I remember thinking at the time – given that I am a mad keen Lois McMaster Bujold ‘Vorkosigan’ books fan – that the movie could be read as a piece of Barrayaran back story/history too
I like books that are a bit different to the norm. This sounds quite an interesting tale.
Holy crap! I am currently living in Krakow so I have got to read this…will download the Kindle copy momentarily.
‘Pan Tadeusz’ is by Adam Mickiewicz — his statue is in the Old Town here in Krakow. Also good in terms of entertaining reading with a good dose of Polish history is Henryk Sienkiewicz. He’s most famous in Poland for his trilogy: WITH FIRE AND SWORD, THE DELUGE and FIRE IN THE STEPPE.
I’m continually amazed at how no one has yet written a romance (at least I don’t know of one) that includes the Battle of Vienna when the Polish Hussars (the cavalry, known as the “winged horsemen” due to their uniforms) along with the German and Austrian troops helped save the day and turn back the Ottomans Empire and some say marked the beginning of the end of the Ottoman–Habsburg wars.
There’s just so much history here in Poland that I never learned about in school in America it boggles my mind!
Glad you enjoyed the story. Yes, there’s quite a few pieces of inspiration from Pan Tadeusz, such as how the table is decorated at the castle at dinner, and what they eat at the hunter’s breakfast. The film version of Pan Tadeusz is wonderful – difficult to describe but a bit like Jane Austen meets the Three Musketeers perhaps?