I came across this book because Howard Lamb was an inspiration to my favorite author, Robert E. Howard. In particular, Lamb inspired Howard's oriental and crusader medieval historical fiction. So I was very curious to read the original inspiration. The book contains roughly a dozen stories, 600 pages worth, of Khlit the Cossack. Unlike many action heroes, Khlit is almost elderly, and generally relies more on his wit than his sword-arm (although he does fight now and again). The stories follow a general template. Khlit wanders to some new, hostile group, gets thorough embroiled with them (with good to bad results), and comes out OK at the end due to some clever scheme he hatched prior to getting embroiled. The revelation of these schemes and how they save Khlit provides the real punch for the stories. The stories take place in the late 16th, early 17th century and are set throughout Asia, including Russia, Mongolia, China, India, and other places. This does provide a refreshing change of scenery between the stories. Also, Lamb is not hesitant to remove key supporting cast members, violently or not, which makes the stories a little less predictable. However, predictability remains a flaw, especially as one reads more of the stories. You generally know some earlier scheme is going to save Khlit and (some of) his allies. Then Khlit will split and find some new group of enemies to infiltrate and pull one over on.
But my biggest reservation is that the action is relatively limited, and compared to REH's extremely vivid combat scenes these stories seem very flat. Lamb was, later in life, a respected historian. His stories read more like interesting histories than the wild and adventurous tales that REH spun. I suppose it's a matter of taste which one is preferable, but for me, I would have liked a little more spice in these stories. As they stand, they're a fun read, but nothing overly memorable.