Another used-book store purchase, this is the Newbery Award Winner from 1929, one I had never read. Newbery winners are nearly always great reading, don’t know how I missed this one. Perhaps, if I saw it as a child, the historical angle didn’t appeal to me.
The book begins with a telling of the legend of the Trumpeter of Krakow, a brave fellow who continued to trumpet the hours from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary during an attack on the Polish capital city in 1241 until he was silenced in mid note by an enemy arrow. From that time on, the same melody was always ended on that unfinished note.
Moving ahead to 1461 we follow the adventures of Joseph and his parents as they flee from their destroyed home in the Ukraine to friends in Krakow. The reason for the destruction is something Joseph’s father has kept in secret, a great treasure handed down in his family. Word of the treasure reached evil ears, and even on the road the family is pursued and accosted by the brigand known as Button-face, still trying to get the hidden treasure. Evading him, the family reaches the city, only to find their friends are gone, and nowhere to turn. Joseph’s chance encounter with an alchemist and his daughter, saving them from the attack of a whipped dog, brings a new place to live, and the father’s meeting with holy scholar Jan Kanty offers him a job as the night shift trumpeter in the church tower, playing the unfinished melody on each hour, and watching over the city.
Joseph helps his father, makes friends with the alchemist’s daughter, gains an ally in the stray dog, and the family settles in to a new life, but one with fear hanging over it. And their enemy Button-face is searching for them. The plot thickens when he finds out where they live, while another thread focuses on the alchemist and his descent into realms of dark sorcery, egged on by a greedy student. Eventually the hidden treasure comes to light, is stolen by someone unexpected, and a suspenseful series of events leads to a great fire that destroys a third of the city before anyone can stop it.
A great adventure story, well researched. I had some fun on Wikipedia checking out some of the characters and events to see which ones were based in history, which were made up by the author, an American professor of English who spent some important time in Krakow teaching there, and who fell in love with the city and its history. Recommended.