In the 16th Century, however, the age-old pattern began to shift. This was due to the increasing effectiveness of muskets. A peasant conscript army or a farmer's militia with guns had a huge advantage over guys on horses. Huge. Nations like Russia began pushing into the Asian steppes, seizing territory, conveting it to agriculture, and blowing away marauders.
But the invention of gunpowder is a funny thing. It appeared around AD 1000, but took several centuries to develop into an effective weapon. In the 1400s bronze cannons brought about the fall of Constantinople and the English sub-kingdom in France. And in the 1500s hand weapons changed infantry warfare forever. But gunpowder is made from three very common ingredients: sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter. There were no prerequisite inventions - anyone could have figured out how to combine these elements a thousand years earlier, possibly preserving the Western Roman Empire. Or, it could have never have happened at all.
Which brings me to Aleksander Liyosh. He lives in a world where gunpowder was never invented. In many ways it's comparable to the early Victorian era. Ships sail the seas, central governments are managed by bureaucrats, young men and women dress in high fashion and attend balls and operas. It just happens that there are no farmer militias to hold he barbarians at bay.