This Osprey Men-at-Arms title has value because it tells the story of the Volga Bulgars, or the Bulgars that chose to migrate towards the North while their “cousins” moved to the Danube which they crossed. The topic is little known, part perhaps in Russia. Also little known is the history of the Khanate of Kazan, one of the “successor states” that emerged after the Mongol onslaught and conquests, and one of the vassals of the Golden Horde, at least for a time.
This is where my first problem came up: essentially, this is two topics treated within an Osprey that is already too short to treat either one of them as it would have merited. Moreover, covering almost eight hundred years within some 48 pages implies that the narrative is only “succinct”, as another reviewer puts it rather over-generously, it is simply superficial, barely scratches the surface and cannot be anything else than that.
My second problem is that while this title can be no more than a primer, as most of this booklets tend to be, it is one that does not allow me to go any further and learn more about them, assuming that I would have wanted to - and I did want to learn more, given that the contents were superficial, as already mentioned. This is because out of some 28 references listed in the bibliography, one two are in English (translations of primary sources), 18 are in Russian and the rest are in German or in French.
While I do not blame the author for this fact, this is clearly disappointing. Again, this could have been alleviated to some extent if the topics covered had been split and dealt with in two titles, rather than one. An additional reason to do this is that, despite the author’s efforts to show some continuity between the periods prior to the Mongol invasion and those after it; this point is not made in a very convincing way.
Despite all these flaws, the author does have some very interesting things to say, even if each element is barely an overview. One is the rather fascinating case of ethnogenesis, as the initial Turkic Bulgars seem to have fused with the Finno-Ougrian populations that they found when they first occupied the country. Another is their conversion to Islam by missionaries who doubled as ambassadors, the most well-known of them being perhaps Ahmad Ibn Fadlan (the historical character played by Antonio Banderas in “The Thirteenth Warrior”), when their Khazar overlords chose to become Jews (or at least their elites did). A third interesting point is the emergence of the Khanate of Kazan in the 14th century and its struggles against the Russian principalities. The piece about the river raids of Russian adventurers (or perhaps more accurately pirates and raiders) was particularly interesting. I was a bit confused at one point because the author at times stresses the devastating campaigns of the Khanate of Kazan against the Russians and almost straight afterwards shows the Khanate as being rather weak and in a decline. The last piece aboiut the decline and fall to the armies of Ivan IV (the one who was "Terrible") is pretty good. In particular, it makes the point that the Khanate simply had nothing that could really oppose and stand up to the Tsar's cannons, especially since fortifications seem to have been in wood.
Then we have the plates which I found rather good, although I confess to knowing little about the arms, armour and equipment of the Volga Bulgars and of the Khanate of Kazan. This is because they support the main text rather well, showing the mixed Russian and Asiatic Steppe nomad influences to which these states were subjected to.
So despite all of its limitations, I believe this title is just about worth three stars. It is simply a pity that the topics were not developed in more detail, especially since the bibliography is essentially of little use if you do not read and understand Russian…