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Review of The Coming of the Horseclans

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

Cover to The Coming of the Horseclans by Robert Adams.

Cover to The Coming of the Horseclans by Robert Adams.

This Post-Apocalyptic Saga Runs in Too Many Directions

Though the basic plot and setting are interesting Robert Adams does not focus on any particular theme or character long enough to convince the reader to care.

Set on the Atlantic coast in the twenty-seventh century A.D., the world struggles with lawlessness, barbarism, perpetual violence, and minimal technology since a series of unspecified cataclysmic events destroyed civilization over six hundred years ago. Into this vacuum comes Milo of Morai who unites the warlike horseclan nomads and leads them on a prophesied trek to a new homeland. Standing in his way is inhospitable terrain, savages that have settled in his path, and a variety of horrors that haven endured in the face of global catastrophe.

Echoes of Other Apocalypses

The setting and broad strokes of the plot are the high-points of the novel. The idea of Milo—who is essentially immortal and has telepathy—becoming a messiah figure by manipulating the religion and traditions of a ruthless, nomadic people is reminiscent of Paul Muad’Dib in Dune, another novel set in the far future. While there is less focus on the politics, Adams makes sure there is more action then in many of Frank Herbert's Dune books.

Adams also shows influences from earlier works in the genre such as Andre Norton’s Star Man’s Son with its quest-based plot and telepathic cat. The setting of a devastated America will be familiar to contemporary fans given the popularity of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the videogame Fallout 3. These fundamentals make it easy to get into the novel, especially as post-apocalyptic literature has grow in popularity in recent years, particularly among young adults. Unlike The Road or Peter Heller's The Dog Stars, where much of the tension comes from the characters being dispossessed or struggling to survive against the odds of near-impossible environmental conditions, the story Adams creates is more one of an empowerment fantasy where strong men fight and conquer their way to greater power. There is little tension to be had in wondering about Milo's success since his abilities exceed those of nearly everyone else in the narrative.

Front and back cover of the Pinnacle - Jan 1977 2nd printing

Front and back cover of the Pinnacle - Jan 1977 2nd printing

Where the Novel and the World Fall Apart

Meticulous attention to obscure details and huge sections of exposition squashes most potential for characters to have meaningful interaction or grow in any way. Adams also stuffs his novel with eccentricities only to abandon them just as quickly. Readers should prepare to see but not become attached to telepathic horses and prairie cats, “The Prophecy of the Return,” Blackfoot beasts, pre-cataclysmic body-snatching vampires, and a rotating roster of suddenly introduced characters who frequently usurp the narrative. Similarly, while Milo starts as the sole immortal, he is joined by at least three more by the end making his gift and its consequences significantly less special.

For all the ideas Adams introduces only to never return to them again, he does fixate on several unfortunate elements. Sexual assault is frequent in the novel and astonishingly so given the inordinate number of children involved in the incidents—a major plot point revolves around the capture and subsequent rape of one girl. Unlike a book like A Game of Thrones wherein a sexually assaulted character deals with the lasting psychological effects, The Coming of the Horseclans uses it for melodrama and to set up Milo's status as a force for justice.

Bleak American Future

A few interesting components are not ultimately enough to salvage the lopsided plot, flat characters, and lack of narrative focus. The Coming of the Horseclans is worth reading for genre enthusiasts, but better depictions of a ruinous future with more satisfying characters exist, especially if the reader is looking for a story with more depth.


Adams, Robert. The Coming of the Horseclans. New York: Pinnacle, 1975.

© 2010 Seth Tomko


Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on March 18, 2011:

Thank you for reading, klause.

klause on March 17, 2011:

So true! I also remember his habit of abruptely abandonning interesting ideas, good review...

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on May 28, 2010:

Thanks for the comments and tips BumptiousQ.

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BumptiousQ from Asheville, NC on May 27, 2010:

I hear you. The abstractions may sound good on paper, or when the writer is sitting around the tavern table or the D 'n D gaming table talking about theme, concept, points to be made, etc., but until some basic storytelling principles are dealt with, the yarn won't spin...One of my favorite storytelling adages of all time is this: Story is character and character is story. Anyone who keeps that simple adage in mind is well on the way to telling a story that has a better than average chance of being read and appreciated.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on May 27, 2010:

Valbond, I believe it is the beginning of a series, but I don't know if I could read through a series if the following books are anything like the first. A sequel would have to show at least a geometric increase in story cohesion and/or character development for me to want to stick with it.

valbond from UK on May 27, 2010:

In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king - sounds as if Milo is the one-eyed man - but then as you say, if there are others like him, it makes you wonder where that might lead! perhaps there was a sequel in there somewhere?

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on May 26, 2010:

I think that is my biggest problem with this book, BumptiousQ. There are a lot of elements that in abstraction sound cool, but they aren't given room to breath and develop.

BumptiousQ from Asheville, NC on May 25, 2010:

Very good point, S. A good premise can be easy to lose if the writer loses his or grip on how to execute it properly (if they ever understood how to execute properly in the first place, that is).

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on May 24, 2010:

Having a lot of good ideas is a blessing, but it often needs the virtue of restraint. It makes me sad this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach because it means good stories get lost in the shuffle. Thanks for stopping by, valeriebelew; your comments are always appreciated.

valeriebelew from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA on May 24, 2010:

Interesting. Sounds like the author was either using stimulant drugs, or needed to use prescription stimulants to treat his ADHD. I'm afraid I have some of those same tendencies of coming up with many ideas, and dropping them in favor of another one. Liked your review of the book, and hope you never review one of mine since the thought is pretty scary. LOL. (: v

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