I first got the idea for “Kings and Pawns” over six years ago. I had been living in Prague at this time for a few years and it struck me as unusual that there was very little fiction written about the Austro-Hungarian Empire (in either English or Czech). It seemed strange to me that such an important player in the early years of the twentieth century should be forgotten in this manner. As someone living in Prague I also though it was a pity that nothing had been written about Bohemia in this time. So I started thinking….
…and that led me to create Baron Rudolph Von Wagner. As you read the book you will see many different facets to this character but for the purposes of this introduction let us simply describe him as a spy – or rather the spy-master of the Empire and Franz Ferdinand in particular.
And like all good spies he needed an adventure, and so Kings and Pawns was born. It is set in 1906 in Europe, and after a quick opening in Paris, it moves to Prague and Benesov, before carrying our hero and the reader (which I hope will be you) to darkest Africa…where even darker secrets are waiting to be uncovered.
I have to admit that writing this book was very enjoyable as doing the research opened up a whole new world to me. It became obvious to me that the people who lived then saw themselves on the verge of a new and modern world and I have tried to capture this spirit in the book…
I have also tried to add realism to the plot by using some real characters (which I have not done before) – the most obvious being Franz Ferdinand. However, Ernst Strohschneider is also a real character (although his involvement in this book is entirely my creation) – a man who went on to be fighter ace in the first world war, before being tragically killed before the end of the conflict. I have also used some other “realities” – for example, each of the ships featured really existed, the most notable being the Zenta, which went to fight valiantly in the war before being sunk by the French in the Adriatic in 1914.
There is another point I would like to make about this book…when I was a kid I read a lot of amazing stories of adventures from Europe to Africa and other exotic places. Tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, John Buchan and Rider Haggard to name but a few…and to me they were always magical and completely absorbing and so I wanted to write something similar myself. I am not quite sure if I have achieved this...but then I am perhaps not the best judge...so let me leave that decision to you, my valued reader!
Baron Rudolph Ferdinand Von Wagner
Born in 1876 in southern Bohemia, the son of a career soldier who fought at the Battle of Koniggratz in 1866 (modern day Hradec Kralove in northern Bohemia). His mother is a Bohemian noble, a countess descended on her maternal side from the line of Holy Roman Emperors. Rudi is the first membr of his family not to have served in the army - instead he was drafted into Imperial service as the spy master of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Born the same year as Rudi, he is the son of the Von Wagner's game keeper, Antonin. He and Rudi have been friends since childhood. Indeed, their boyhood adventures that often saw them disappear for hours on end (and sometimes longer) led to Rudi being nicknames "Lisacek" (the little fox) by the estate's staff who would sometimes have to spend hours searching the woods and pastures for the friends. Jiri joined the army as an enlisted man but was quickly promoted to sergeant having seen active combat on the border between Bosnia and Serbia (where there was a de facto war, albeit unofficial, since the murder of the Serbian King in 1903 and his replacement with an ultra-nationalist and pro-Russian puppet monarch). Jiri is an experienced soldier, an expert military tactician and a feircely loyal friend to Rudi. Together they are a formidable foe.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand (born 18 December 1863) was an Archduke of Austria-Este, Austro-Hungarian and Royal Prince of Hungary and of Bohemia, and from 1889 until his death, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination in Sarajevo precipitated Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia. This caused Germany and Austria-Hungary, and countries allied with Serbia (the Triple Alliance Powers) to declare war on each other, starting World War I. He was born in Graz, Austria, the oldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria (younger brother of Franz Joseph and Maximilian) and of his second wife, Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. When he was only twelve years old, his cousin Duke Francis V of Modena died, naming Franz Ferdinand his heir on condition that he add the name Este to his own. Franz Ferdinand thus became one of the wealthiest men in Austria. He lived in Konopiste Castle near Prague at the time in which the story is set, primarily to be far away from his uncle, the Emperor Franz Jozef. Their relationship was terse to say the least. Indeed, the Pope had to intervene in one of their arguments! (the full background of which is detailed in the book!)
She is also a childhood friend of both Rudi and Jiri and her father also worked on the Von Wagner estate. She is a woman ahead of her time - she is independent and educated and speaks Czech, German, French and Russian. She also managed the Von Wagner estate in Rudi's absence. She is his friend, companian, lover, ally and on occassion, fellow spy. She is very often the subtle input to his plans and even more often the secret of his success.
Born in what is now Usti nad Labem in northern Bohemia, Ernst Strohschneider is a real war hero. He was firstly an army officer, who was wounded, captured and then escaped. He later became a figher pilot and became an Ace with 15 confirmed kills to his name. He won the Military Merit Medal. He was killed in March 1918. His role in this story is of course fictional, but it is fitting for man of his character, determination and bravery.
Paul Smith, Dublin, Ireland
A wonderful adventure book and a great read. It moves at breath-taking pace and is a definite page turner! The author has also created a wonderful new hero - a thinking, caring, modern man of action. It also opens up a forgotten world and gives some insight into the politics of pre-World War I Europe. A big thumbs up from me!