It’s set in Iron Age eastern Europe, and concerns the age-old nomad cycle. If you’re unfamiliar with that, it was a pattern that played out time and time again in ancient and medieval history. The vast plains of Eurasia would give rise to a nation of horse-mounted nomads whose harsh lifestyle would produce hardy and cruel warriors. Eventually, a powerful leader would unite the nomads, an Attila or a Genghis Khan or a Tamerlane, and the nomads would go on a rampage of conquest, building a vast empire and destroying many of the sedentary societies surrounding their territories. Eventually the nomads would be defeated, or fall apart into civil war, and the cycle would begin anew.
In YEAR OF THE HORSETAILS, the nomads are the Tugars, who rule a vast empire surrounded by vassal states. Every year the supreme ruler of the Tugars, the Kagan, mounts an expedition to a neighboring state, destroying their towns and villages, stealing their crops and cattle, slaughtering the fighting men, and carrying off the women and children into slavery.
The protagonist is Bardiya, fleeing from the court of the Kagan after one of the Kagan’s officers murdered his wife. In retribution, the Kagan sent his men to kill Bardiya, who had no choice to flee to the uttermost edges of the Kagan’s realms. Bardiya is a Saka, one of the Kagan’s client nations, forced to fight in the Kagan’s army. Forsaken by both his own people and his Tugar masters, Bardiya flees over the mountains to the land of the Drevichi, an Iron Age Slavic people governed by a loose confederation of princes. Bardiya gains the trust of the Drevichi, and quickly settles in his new homeland.
Unfortunately, the Kagan’s annual campaign is coming up…and this time, the Drevichi are his next target.
What follows is an excellent historical novel of farmers struggling against nomads, as Bardiya aids his adopted homeland in its desperate struggle against the Tugar hordes.
Altogether an excellent novel, and THE YEAR OF THE HORSETAILS is highly recommended.