It may be of interest to you to read my review of the previous book, Lord Conrad’s Lady
Eight years after Book 5 (and ostensibly the last) of the Conrad series, what should I see but a Book 6! Actually, it’s difficult to believe that it’s already been a decade since Conrad’s Quest for Rubber came out: it hardly seems like that long.
Actually, this book was incredibly disappointing, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. There’s very little Conrad in it at all, despite the name. Frankowski insists that he centered most of the action around young Josip Sobieski because Conrad is now over 60. Since Frankowski likes to turn Conrad’s Uncle Tom into a deus ex machina, I fail to see how a little thing like age would stop Conrad’s adventures, especially since Book 5 ended with a magical rejuvenation treatment for Conrad.
But such is life. Conrad’s Quest for Rubber spends a good deal of time telling the back story of one Josip Sobieski, who was a peasant boy at Okoitz when Conrad first showed up in Book 1. Too much time is spent, in fact, rehashing the series so far, including the short-lived war, and it is only with the greatest of effort that the reader manages to get through to new material. The bulk of the new plot in the book is Conrad building ferrocrete boats and founding an “Explorer’s Corp.” At first, they explore the Baltic, and eventually all to way up to Scandavia, setting up trade postings and expanding the new Polish empire.
But then Conrad sends them across the Atlantic, to the Amazon river, principally so that Conrad’s empire will have a source of rubber, the lack of which is severely hampering technological innovation. This, as you may well imagine, does two things: (1) it apparently gives Frankowski license to absurd plot devices involving Amazonian natives and sex (and veering into even stranger polygamist terroritory, which has been a gradual tendency of the books to-date), as (2) it ends in disaster. Mostly the incompatibility of European materials with equatorial environment, as well as the incompatibility of Polish microorganisms with equatorial peoples (and vice versa).
But what may be the biggest copout of all is how Frankowski uses Uncle Tom as a saviour once again, and he provides an easy solution that fixes all of Conrad’s problems lickity-split. I’ve never quite understood Frankowski’s inclinations in this regard: while he seems to stress that Conrad’s success in building a semi-modern industrial nation out of 13th-century Poland was largely because they had to self-teach and build it from scratch, he doesn’t seem at all troubles to have introduced a magical bioengineered horse-like species that Conrad uses for agricultural and transportational uses instead of building, say, steam engines. Add to that a second bioengineered species, basically superhuman 16-year-old girl, and you can see where things start to get awfully convoluted.
The truth is, if you’re still reading the series at this point, and you’re interested in reading Book 7 (more on that later), then you could even skip this particular novel, as it adds very little to the series plot arch. But if you’re a real Frankowski fan, you’ll probably read Conrad’s Quest for Rubber anyway.