A well-researched but oddly lifeless historical/theological novel--the first of a proposed trilogy covering the factual career of soldier-explorer-religious-leader Alexander ""Sasha"" Bulatovich (1870-1919). Here Bulatovich is an ambitious 30-year-old cavalry captain in 1900 Siberia and Manchuria, but flashbacks (often awkwardly inserted) fill in his earlier life: conflicts with his religious mother (Sasha has lost his faith); joining the Hussars; losing his virginity in a brothel; romance and arguments with idealistic Colonel's daughter Sonya; and exotic duties in Ethiopia, where he succumbs to the heavygoing sensuality (and career-destroying betrayal) of older-woman Asalafetch. As for the present tense, Sasha quickly demands his own troop in Manchuria, and his fearless heroism wins him the devotion of his men: they call him ""Mazeppa"" (after the legendary Cossack) and call themselves the ""Mazeppy."" Sasha's superiors, however, are mostly chagrined by his glory-seeking valor--especially Major Strakhov, who, after the Russians take Hailar, wins the concubineship of beautiful Chinese refugee Sonya . . . who, however, really loves Sasha. And when Sasha (who seems miraculously immune to bullets) determines to top all his previous heroic acts by rescuing a missionary, thus coming down with typhus, ""Chinese Sonya"" nurses him devotedly--and dies herself. This love story, however, never shapes up dramatically. Nor does the campaign action ever catch fire. Seltzer's real interest here, instead, seems to lie in some rather blurry theo-philosophical notions--Sasha's men include an Old Believer, an atheist, a would-be priest, and a man terrified of being thought Jewish--so there are odd, unlikely chats about religion, anti-Semitism, etc. And Sasha himself indulges in flabby discussions of heroism and destiny and faith, with such pallid declarations as: "" 'Man' is a name to be earned, like 'hero.' Maybe we're born with the potential, but only through actions, through meeting challenges can you earn your name. Maybe that's what we're here for--to become whatever we have in us to become."" Too bland and static, then, for most historical-action readers--and too fuzzyminded for a more serious, theology-oriented audience.