Our January Book, With Fire and Sword
As I explained in a comment, Curtin was a famous folklorist and historian of the Mongols, whose death was lamented by Teddy Roosevelt. He can be long-winded and takes for granted a breadth of reading which not everyone possesses. Nonetheless, his introduction is very useful.
Perhaps my feeble knowledge can help to clarify the situation. At the dramatic date of the novel, there are distinct peoples engaged in a struggle for power. The principle players are:
- The Poles, who, pushed eastward by German expansion, have sought to create an empire in Lithuania, and parts of Russia.
- The Mongols, who had invaded Europe, particularly Russia and Poland, in the middle of the 13th century.
- The Russians, who are recovering from the Mongol conquest and rebuilding their nation with difficulty.
- The Cossacks, who are more difficult to categorize. Their name has an uncertain etymology though it is thought of as a Mongol-Tartar or Turkish word. They were basically something between cowboys and outlaws, Slavic peasants, Mongols/Tartars, and anyone fleeing from oppression or simply servitude. They were by this time predominantly Slavic, and living in traditional Slavic free self-governing communities that were coalescing into federations. They had tried alliances with both Poles and Russians and would end up as allies subordinate to the Russians
I am ready for other questions, such as the meaning of "Pan" before a name.