The only thing ambitious, straitlaced Johann Matthias Plischke and privileged, profligate Georg Knauss have in common is the five years they spend together scouring Brazil for natural specimens for Austria’s imperial museum. They return to Vienna eager to part ways, but that isn’t so simple—their time in Brazil has changed each of them in ways only the other can understand, and as the years pass, their rivalry turns into an enduring friendship. But when revolution sweeps through Europe the two men find themselves on different sides of the barricades, and their bond is put to the ultimate test.
Johann Matthias Plischke no longer notices the gunfire rattling the hills outside the city. He hardly blinks when a pistol coughs a few streets away. But when it comes from right behind him—sharp crack, bullet whining like an insect past his ear—he still lurches for the shelter of the whitewashed wall.
A knot of soldiers passes, muskets on their shoulders, trailing acrid smoke and harsh laughter. Once they are gone Plischke steps back out into the street and straightens his jacket, resolutely ignoring the hammering of his heart. He would swear there have been more gunshots in the past week, in celebration of Brazil’s new independence, than in the two years of actual fighting beforehand. Here in Rio good cheer means whizzing bullets, shattered glass, and an unspeakable mix of fluids glittering in the seams of the paving stones. Plischke shakes off his boot with a grimace.
He has no feeling on the question of independence. His only feeling is exasperation: at blockades and detours and scarce supplies, at plans scuttled and routes redrawn, at skirmishes flaring up all across the map. Plischke’s business in Brazil is purely intellectual, purely scientific, purely for the good of the Austrian Empire.