Alexander Kazbegi was an ethnographer who grew up in Khevi, and as such was quite familiar with the life of the mountaineer. The novel is written in Medieval Georgian, which is also the dialect of northern Georgians.
The author also addresses political issues, such as the importance of self-selected government. At the time, the governors of the region were appointed by Russian authorities. Also, Russian authorities used cossack soldiers to occupy Georgia and the cossack's abusive behavior made the situation even worse.
The novel takes place in 19th century Georgia, when Georgia was occupied by the Russian Empire. It is a love story of Iago, a peasant boy, and Nunu, a beautiful young woman. Nunu's mother died early, and since her father (a member of the coalition army in the Shamil rebellion) is too poor to care for her, she lives with her uncle's family. They disapprove of her match with Iago, as they consider him a mere Plebe. Instead, they are sympathetic towards Grigola, the tyrannical village governor appointed by the Russians. Grigola is married, but in love with the beautiful Nunu. He convinces her family that his brother would like to wed her, though Grigola intends to keep Nunu as his own mistress.
To get Nunu, Grigola realizes that he has to get rid of Iago first. Grigola accuses him of stealing state property and gives orders to lock him up in the Ananuri fortress. He then kidnaps and rapes Nunu. Koba, Iago's best friend, witnesses the kidnapping. He fights through Grigola's men to rescue Nunu, but he is too late. Koba swears revenge against Grigola for his shameful behavior.