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Monday 24 January 2022

My Coffee Pot Guest: the Winged Warrior Series by Griffin Brady

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The Heart of a Hussar is a tale of a noble 17th century Polish winged hussar who pursues his dream of owning his own estate by gaining recognition for his military accomplishments. The winged hussars were an elite cavalry known for the wings they wore into battle, and his role as an officer places him in many campaigns throughout the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. 

First, a bit about the country he fought for: In 1569, the Kingdom of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania united, forming the superpower known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the time, it was the most populous country in Europe, and one of its largest as well. 

The story opens in the midst of the Battle of Kłuszyn in Russia. The location is relevant because of the battle’s significance in Polish military history. It was one of many fought by the Polish winged hussars where they were far outnumbered by the opposing army and yet prevailed. It also marks a decisive contest that was part of a larger military campaign undertaken by Poland against Russia: the siege of Smoleńsk. 

While the book does not include any scenes in Smoleńsk, its mention is relevant because it was ground zero for the war that erupted between the two nations. Conflict had been brewing for a while between Russia and Poland. When Sweden allied itself with Russia against Poland, King Zygmunt III, the elected king of the Commonwealth, seized the opportunity to go to war against Russia by laying siege to Smoleńsk. 

The siege began in 1609 and had been underway for a year when Hetman Stanisław Żόłkiewski, the general in charge of the Polish troops, heard of the allied Russian army advancing. He mobilized to intercept, and Kłuszyn became the battleground. Though the battle lasted only five hours, it is significant because of the jaw-dropping odds. A force of 2,700 (2,500 Polish winged hussars and 200 infantry) took on a force of 40,000 … and defeated them. A month later, Żόłkiewski marched into Moscow and established a Polish garrison which would occupy the city for two years.

In and around Smoleńsk and Kłuszyn are several other locations whose relevance are tied to the battle itself. For instance, Biała and Carowa-Zajmiszcze were staging areas where Żόłkiewski divided his already depleted force, eventually reducing it to the 2,700 who marched on to Kłuszyn and defeated the Russians. 

When the battle ends, the main character’s company of winged hussars is dismissed and directed to return home by Żόłkiewski. As they set out, they come upon a village under attack. Vyatov is a fictional village, but I placed it close to Maksimkovo, which existed then and still exists today. Vyatov is in Russia but borders the Commonwealth, which is key because the main character ends up rescuing two children from the village whose fluency in Polish allows them communicate with the hussars. 

Over several weeks, the company wends its way to the area where it hails from in southwest Poland, not far from Kraków. The estate is a fictional one named Biaska, and it is located in the Polish Jura Highlands among a string of castles and forts known as the Eagles’ Nests fortifications. These date back to the fourteenth century and were ordered built by King Kazimierz the Great to secure Poland’s western border against its aggressors. 

The layout of the fictional Biaska Castle is loosely based on Ogrodzieniec Castle, whose ruins can be found among what remains of the Eagles’ Nests. Its geographical location, however, would more closely match that of Bobolice Castle, which lies approximately fifteen miles to the north.

Ogrodzieniec Castle

Bobolice Castle

The Eagles’ Nests castles and forts run northwest of Kraków. Ogrodzieniec, for example, is about forty miles north by northwest. It housed the royal court from the time Poland first became a country until the royal court moved to Warsaw not long before this story begins. Though the characters do not travel to Kraków in the book, it is mentioned quite often. It’s relevant because of its proximity to the fictional Biaska Castle, its overall importance to the country, and the fact that a modern reader can easily relate to it. 

Poland’s other major city, Warsaw, is featured in the story when the main character detours there in his quest to gain favor with the king and further his ambition to gain his own land. The side trip ends up being a costly mistake. 

Before the main character departs for Warsaw, he visits Żόłkiew. Żόłkiew, which is now in the Ukraine, was once part of the Commonwealth and belonged to Hetman Stanisław Żόłkiewski. Żόłkiewski is a historical figure who makes a number of appearances in the book and is highly revered by the main character. The hetman’s invitation is a great honor the main character cannot—nor does he want to—refuse. 

Kamieniec-Podolski also figures in the story. It too is in the Ukraine and was once part of the Commonwealth. An impenetrable fortress along the latter’s southern border, it was key to the Commonwealth’s defense against the encroaching Ottoman Empire. The main character travels to Kamieniec-Podolski on several military campaigns. One of those campaigns results in a battle between the hussars and an army of Tatars. 

Kamieniec-Podolski Castle

Other towns and fortifications—some real and some fictional—are sprinkled throughout the story. Of those, Sandomierz is relevant because there is talk of Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, a historical figure who was a Polish magnate from Sandomierz and the Palatine of Kraków. He led a rebellion of nobles against King Zygmunt III known as the “Zebrzydowski Rokosz” (Zebrzydowski Rebellion) in 1607-1609. The rebels were defeated at Guzów by the king’s forces. Present was none other than Hetman Stanisław Żόłkiewski, though the troops he commanded never saw battle.

Traveling virtually through the towns and countryside where Polish winged hussars once rode was a thrill for me. I’ve visited some of the places in person and would someday love to see them all.

The Heart of a Hussar (The Winged Warrior Series, Book 1)
By Griffin Brady
this novel was reviewed on
Helen' review blog
Discovering Diamonds

Poland is at war. He must choose between his lifelong ambition and his heart.

Exploiting Muscovy’s Time of Troubles, Poland has invaded the chaotic country. Twenty-two-year-old Jacek Dąbrowski is an honorable, ferocious warrior in a company of winged hussars—an unrivaled, lethal cavalry. When his lieutenant dies in battle, Jacek is promoted to replace him, against the wishes of his superior, Mateusz, who now has more reason to eliminate him. 

Jacek dedicates his life to gaining the king’s recognition and manor lands of his own. Con-sequently, he closely guards his heart, avoiding lasting romantic entanglements. Unscathed on the battlefield, undefeated in tournaments, and adored by women eager to share his bed, Jacek has never lost at anything he sets out to conquer. So when he charges toward his goals, he believes nothing stands in his way. 

Upon his return from battle, Jacek deviates from his ordinarily unemotional mindset and rescues enemy siblings, fifteen-year-old Oliwia and her younger brother, Filip, from their devastated Muscovite village. His act of mercy sets into motion unstoppable consequences that ripple through his well-ordered life for years to come—and causes him to irretrievably lose his heart. 

Oliwia has her own single-minded drive: to protect her young brother. Her determination and self-sacrifice lead her to adopt a new country, a new religion, and a new way of life. But it’s not the first time the resilient beauty has had to remake herself, for she is not what she appears to be.
As Jacek battles the Muscovites and Tatars threatening Poland’s borders for months at a time, Oliwia is groomed for a purpose concealed from her. All the while, Mateusz’s treachery and a mysterious enemy looming on the horizon threaten to destroy everything Jacek holds dear.

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited
Universal Book Link:

About the author

Griffin Brady is a historical fiction author with a keen interest in the Polish Winged Hussars of the 16th and 17th centuries. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. The Heart of a Hussar took third place in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2018 Colorado Gold Contest and was a finalist in the Northern Colorado Writers’ 2017 Top of the Mountain Award.

The proud mother of three grown sons, she lives in Colorado with her husband. She is also an award-winning, Amazon bestselling romance author who writes under the pen name G.K. Brady.

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Twitter Handle: @griffbrady1588 @maryanneyarde
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note: Helen has not yet read this title - it is on her TBR list though!

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