This set is for the 9th and 10th centuries, a period which in many ways can be described as the birth of Russia. In 800 the land we know today as the Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia was mostly settled by Slavs, who recognised local tribal chiefs but had no higher notion of statehood. As the century progressed Scandinavians, Varangians from Sweden and elsewhere, entered the area by the rivers and gradually took control of the natives, building forts to defend their trade and dominions. According to the Primary Chronicle the year 862 is traditionally seen as the start of the Varangian dominance, but from this time the many petty domains steadily grew, and by the end of the following century major centres such as Kiev were establishing large and sophisticated principalities. These then were the early Rus (the name came from the Varangians themselves), and during this period they were mostly engaged in internal wars or fights with near neighbours.
Originally the Varangians were entirely Scandinavian in their military ways, but over time the native Slavic influence was to change that. Also as in later times the position of the land meant there were influences from all quarters, and particularly from the Steppe, resulting in a blend unique to the Rus. As elsewhere in Europe many warriors wore mail, but lamellar armour too was common. Round or conical helmets, sometimes beautifully decorated, were also to be seen, while the usual Viking round shield remained the staple protection. Axes continued to be a preferred weapon, although when available fine Frankish swords were also utilised, while poorer warriors might be armed with spears or javelins, and some bows were also present. The figures in this set reflect this diversity well, with all the right weapons, armour and clothing. Since almost every man has a good set of armour these might be described as better off warriors, but that is an observation that can be made of very many figure sets. In short, there are no accuracy issues here.
If accuracy is the good news then the poses are less impressive. All are fairly flat, and for those that are supposed to be swinging weapons that matters. Several have axes or swords over their heads, but the poses are not convincing simply because such a weapon should be behind the man, assuming he is to strike at something to his front, and not directly over his head. Another feature of flat figures is the difficulties with shields in inappropriate places, and this is certainly true here. Some figures such as the spearman in the second row are really nicely done, but there are too many here that are far from convincing.
If poses were not such good news then the worst is yet to come. Aside from the flatness of many of the poses the sculptor of these figures is clearly a skilled craftsman. The level of detail, the texture of the armour, the expressions on the faces – all are superb. Proportions too are excellent, but as with the Slavs set the hands are a real weak spot, often being featureless or almost non-existent. Despite this the sculptor might be well pleased with his work, yet perhaps reduced to tears by what the mould-maker did with it. As can be seen above flash is rampant, with most figures suffering from it, although bizarrely a handful have none at all. In our review set we found considerable differences between the four copies of the sprue – the above is a medium example, which means, believe it or not, that some individual figures were worse than those shown. On the other hand some were better, so presumably the condition of the figures in any box you buy will be to a degree random, which is not a good sales feature. Clearly much work needs to be done to bring future Orion products up to an acceptable quality standard if this set is any guide.
Scoring high marks in some categories is of little use if other categories attract low marks. Though these figures are accurate and for the most part very well sculpted, some poor flat poses and the prospect of long periods spent trimming off flash badly diminishes any appeal this set has. In the end all the good work is largely wasted by the bad.