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The Year of the Horsetails by R. F. Tapsell

"A Brilliant piece of Historical Fiction" Author Gregory House

"An undiscovered novel that deserves to be back on bookshelves, as a masterful classic of outstanding magnitude!" Lucinda: Goodreads 

Eastern Europe: Early Middle Ages. The nomad warrior Bardiya
must flee from the evil empire of the Mongol-like Tugars and
their ruthless Kagan. He receives hospitality from the sedentary
Slavic Drevich people; but fears that they also might succumb to
the might of the Tugar empire. Will he be able to convince them
of their danger and teach them the skills necessary to defeat their
new enemy?

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Review from IP Book Reviewers

The Year of the Horsetails

R.F. Tapsell

CnPosner Books

147 Pages, (8x11, unconventional)

Published: 2013 (Previously published several times, first published by Hutchinson & Co., 1967)

Historical Novel

ISBN: 978-095634754-1

A sweeping war drama depicting the tribal warfare of ancient horse nations of the Carpathian region, R.F. Tapsells The Year of the Horsetails (first published by Hutchinson & Co., 1967) is a gem for readers who are interested in military history, military strategy, and the daily life of the steppe warriors before Europes borders were drawn on any map. The author seems to be an authority on the topics of weaponry, social structure, and clashing cultures of the long-ago era: massive research and enormous knowledge anchors the novel.

The plot spans over an entire year in the life of the main character, Bardiya, a Saka warrior thrown by fate from one exotic culture to another. We meet him when he is a fugitive from the cruel and barbaric Tugar Kagan. Surviving the escape by his outstanding combat skills and pure luck, he lands in the foreign and somewhat disdained culture of the agriculturally inclined town-dwellers of the Drevich people. Soon Bardiya establishes his diplomatic connections and becomes the military leader of the Drevichi against the nomad experts of steppe warfare, unstoppable conquest, and unrelenting invasion: the Tugars.

The title (The Year of the Horsetails) is very appropriate: the plot describes one tumultuous, adventure-filled year in Bardiya
s life. The number of horsetails signify the rank of an officer in the nomad army, seven being the highest rank, that of the Kagan, ruler of the steppe. Tapsells historical knowledge shines through every line of the novel, yet it proves to be a double-edged sword. There is a fairly sharp learning curve for the reader. The first half of the book is excruciatingly slow with seemingly unending narration written in archaic, very formal English, peppered with intimidating paragraphs that contain sentences with numerous foreign names, technical terms, and military references: “Yarosh was rather surprised, until he was told that Bregnits was full of Drevich leaders and fugitives. Then he saw that there were other troops camped outside the town. Bardiya, Yarosh and Mrad rode into Bregnits with Drageshs messengers.” (p.59, para 3 and 4.) Even though the narrative is rich with detailed and accurate history, after 60 pages the value of it starts to fade, and both comprehension and attention suffer. Omniscient point of view attempts to balance the dryness of the narration, but the “show, dont tell” policy still seems to be missing. Nonetheless, I urge the reader to get over the first half of the book in order to experience an exceptional literary and historical feat. The classically structured plot presents gradually rising tension, which results in an action-filled page-turner by the time you reach the second half of the novel. Tapsells book apparently has been published several times since 1967. I applaud this latest edition (published by CnPosner Books, 2013) for the sheer effort of bringing a well-loved, classic historical novel back into the limelight. For the modern reader, a glossary would be extremely beneficial, along with inside illustration to accompany Daniel OLearys beautifully composed cover art.

Hedi Harrington

Book Reviewer


The Year of the Horsetails

Glossary of names and terms


Agunda: deceased wife of Bardiya

Argun: deceased Tarkhan

Ardastyr: senior Saka commander; negotiator for the Kagan at Sered

ballista: large crossbow-like catapult for hurling heavy javelins, arrows, or stones

Bardiya: exiled Saka; former officer of the Kagan

Bratan: armourer/ engineer in service of Volko

Dragesh: Drevich prince; lord of Sevrosk

Etel: Tarkhan; messenger of the Kagan at Sered

grapnel: iron shaft with claws at one end, usually thrown by a rope and used for grasping and holding

Gromir: Drevich prince

Kasmar: lieutenant of Gromir

Marissa: foster-daughter of Mirosh; apparently of Byzantine origin

Milin: Drevichi: tally-cutter to Volko

Mitra: Iranian god of light; known to Romans as Mithras

Mrad: Drevichi fugitive from Bregnits; commander of ten

Mirosh, Drevichi; leader of village of Krotos

parapet: low protective wall or railing along the edge of a raised structure

Perun: Slavic god of thunder

phalanx: originally a unit of the Macedonian army; more generally, any close military formation

postern: small rear gate in fort or castle

Radek: teenage son of Volko

rampart: fortification consisting of an embankment

Rostas: Drevich scout/ spy of Krotos

Rodichi: people living to the west of the Danube

Ruksas: Saka commander

Saka: Scythian tribe or group of tribes of Iranian origin; vassals of the Tugars

stockade: defensive barrier made of strong posts or timbers driven upright side by side into the ground

Svatar: Drevichi; headman of Sered

Sveta: daughter of Mirosh

Svorog: Slavic god of celestial fire and blacksmithing; usually known as Svarog

Tarkhan: Tugar commander of ten thousand

Terko: relative of Rostas

Tudunbeg: Tugar commander of a thousand

Vara: wife of Mirosh

Vledar: Drevichi of Ostuga

Volkich: patronymic “son of Volko”

Volko: Drevich prince; lord of Mostek; overlord of Mirosh

Volos: Slavic god of cattle, death and wealth; also called Veles

Yarosh: Drevich leader;, brother of Mirosh

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