Bookworm, writer, radio host—I blog about history, fiction, and publishing in the Internet Age. You can find the full blog on my website. This space is for books.
Since I am the author, what follows is not a review but some information that may be useful in understanding the Legends of the Five Directions series as a whole.
For almost 250 years (1240–1480), the disunited Russian principalities belonged to what is commonly but inaccurately known as the Golden Horde, the western part of the vast Mongol Empire created by Genghis Khan and his descendants. Over those 250 years, Mongol dominance gradually declined as the Golden Horde fractured and the Russian princes united. By the 1530s, Russia was clearly on the upswing, although several independent khanates—by then run by a Turkic/Mongol blend of peoples known as the Tatars—continued to exist and retained the prestige conferred by their illustrious past. Over the next twenty years, Tatar princes would increasingly enter Muscovite service, where their genealogy placed them at the same rank as Russia’s royal family. Beginning in 1552, Russia conquered the khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia, leaving only the Khanate of Crimea—a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire that retained its semi-independence until the reign of Catherine the Great (1762–96).
Despite being on a generally upward trajectory, between 1533 and 1547 Russia underwent a period of internal crisis after its ruler (then the grand prince of Moscow) died unexpectedly, leaving his scepter in the hands of his three-year-old son, who would one day be known as Russia’s first tsar, Ivan the Terrible (1533–84). In a political system that depended on consensus among the nobility, which in turn depended on a pecking order determined by who married his daughter to the grand prince, rule by a child too young to wed threatened to destabilize the government by removing its best means of moderating competition among aristocratic lineages. In short, it was every boyar for himself—or at least for his clan. The prospect of weak and divided rule also attracted the attention of expansionist neighbors—specifically, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which sought to recover lands lost to Russia during the previous reign.
This combination of domestic crisis in Russia, the struggle between Russia and Poland-Lithuania in the west, and Russian/Tatar (and Tatar/Tatar) jockeying for power on the steppe forms the backdrop to my Legends of the Five Directions series, which begins with the Tatars of Kasimov, subordinate to Russian power, and journeys to Moscow, to the southern steppes, to Kazan in the east and Smolensk in the west, and to the monasteries of the taiga before completing its journey in the heartland.
The five books in the series are The Golden Lynx (west), The Winged Horse (east), The Swan Princess (north), The Vermilion Bird (south), and The Shattered Drum (center).