Conrad Schwartz, humble Polish engineer, was stranded in the 13th century. Ever the resourceful technician, he put his considerable skills to use attempting to bring modern technology and engineering to bear on the dirty and backwards Poland of the dark ages. By the end of book two, Conrad had not only stayed alive despite the best efforts of rogue knights, bandits, and angry slavers with papal sanctions, but had positively thrived, introducing a crude cloth factory to his benefactor Count Lambert and starting heavy industry on his own new lands.
The Radiant Warrior marks a departure from the preceding two books of the Adventures of Conrad Stargard in a number of important and infamous ways. Both the the latter transpired within a single year of Conrad’s inadvertent arrival in 13th-century Poland. This new entry in the series, by contrast, very suddenly covers another 6 or 7 years in a single book: the sword-swinging microcosmic view of Conrad has ceded to a more elaborate montage, narrating the progress of Conrad’s growing empire of installations: Okoitz, Three Walls, a copper-smelting city, an engineering school called Eagle’s Nest, a coal-mining city, and his franchise of bunny clubs throughout Poland. As his network of schools grows, so does his pool of competent workers who can now innovate without his assistance (to a limited degree).
At least the first half of the book has no real narrative direction beyond technical tangents and Frankowski having fun with the character and the head of steam that this heroic anachronism is building up. Finally, having effectively glossed over a number of years in less than a hundred pages, Frankowski covers Conrad’s military. Though a good and proper socialist who dislikes war, Conrad knows that the Mongols will invade soon, and he has intentions to mobilize about 150’000 able-bodied fighting Poles, armed with semi-modern machine guns and very unchivalric fighting tactics against a horde three million Mongols strong. He creates a “Warrior School” almost immediately rechristened “Hell” in popular parlance, where he first trains his drill instructors, who will in turn train the first round of cadets. Among them is a long-running character in the series, the puny Piotr, who has heretofore served as Conrad’s accountant. Piotr’s ultimately hope is to be knighted as a result of the school, and therefore earn the ability to coerce sex of Krystyana, the 14-year-old whom Conrad took to bed in his year—though of course by this time she’s several years older and has borne several of Conrad’s children (and is, social status be damned, still unwed).
In the meantime, Conrad dedicates no small amount of engineering time to a fleet of steamboats which will patrol the Vistula river and act as the first line of defense against the invading horde. These boats will feature prominently in the next book, and they are clearly a technical favorite of Frankowski, who engineers boats vicariously in some of his other books as well. In fairness, these are genuinely neat, and form a floating demo of his steam-powered grenade launchers and machine guns.
But not all is well in The Radiant Warrior: Conrad’s horse, Anna, is a bio-engineered creation of his uncle Tom, and has demonstrated in the past that she is not only much stronger and deadlier than a normal horse, but also understands Polish and can spell—poorly—words using a letter board. In The Radiant Warrior, we find out that she can also reproduce parthenogenetically, in litters of 4 foals which mature within as many years. Asking her to keep reproducing, Conrad envisions a future where these “Big People”, as they are called, are used for most or all of the transportation needs of the country. Attempting to design a mobile steam engine to power a sort of railroad system, he decides instead that the eventual proliferation of these neohorses makes bulky engines obsolete. It’s technically true, but it also feels not only like a copout on Frankowski’s part, but completely out of place in a story which applies technology to just about everything. It also marks the point at which either Conrad by design or Frankowski by laziness begins to rely overmuch on the deus ex machina of Conrad’s uncle Tom, heretofore limited to interesting interludes.
By far the most troubling portion of The Radiant Warrior is after Piotr has been knighted, and forcibly takes Krystyana to bed. Understand that the rights of belted knights in Frankowski’s version of Poland included the droit du seigneur—the right to take the virginity of any young woman on his estate. Such a thing doesn’t appear to have existed at any point in the Middle Ages, but Frankowski probably didn’t know that. In his defense, he circumvented the nasty business of forced defloration by instead inventing a CandyLand™ scenario where clutches of young, horny Polish girls threw themselves at every “Sir” within range. It’s a chauvinistic scenario, to be sure, though hardly the most uncomfortable thing to have come out of science fiction. When Piotr forces himself upon Krystyana, however, with her friends and coworkers cheering him on, things get downright terrible. Not only is it unmitigated rape, but whatever mystical powers Frankowski ascribes to sex makes Krystyana finally requite his affection post-coitus. It is difficult to tell which is worse: the rape itself, or the glib apologetic gloss of the rape with a romance that only a fat, chauvinistic fabulist could concoct.