Monday, December 16, 2019


Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series

I have been drawn in again by Iggulden’s writing. Having previously enjoyed his Wars of the Roses and Julius Caesar Emperor series, I have now delved into the 12th and 13th century of Mongolia and the empire of Genghis Khan. I have read a bit of historical fiction about the women around Genghis Kahn before, so had a rough idea of some events, but this was excellent.

As I worked my way through the five books, I was regularly astonished at the discoveries within. The empire that Genghis Khan and his sons established is truly astonishing. I don’t think there has ever been anything like it.

Wolf of the Plains starts with Genghis (named Temujin) as a small boy, son of a local Khan (tribal leader). When he dies, his wife and 6 children are turned out by the clan, as other men claim the leadership. Through pure dedication and wits, their mother Hoelin keeps the children alive and they slowly re-establish themselves. But anger drives Genghis, and a desire for revenge. He has realised just how many tribes of the Mongol lands fight one another in a desire for power, as well as how many people exist without a clan. He decides to unite them all. He seems to have had a truly impressive force of personality, as well as a cutthroat willingness to destroy all things in his path. By the end of Book 1, he has gathered most of the local tribes together to make a great nation.

In Lords of the Bow, he has come to realise that the Chin empires to the East have subtly controlled and corralled the powers of his people for centuries. He sets out to change it and forces his way into Chin lands, past their great walls and mountain passes, making numerous cities his vassals and forcing the emperor to his knees.

In Bones of the Hills while on the brink of complete control of the Chin lands, Genghis withdraws and sends the bulk of his armies west to fight against the Arabic nations who have dared to oppose him.

Throughout there are detailed and extended accounts of the way battles worked and how the fighting forces moved and operated. It was fascinating. At the same time, there are many personal details about Genghis’ own family life and the struggles within. His eldest son Jochi was never certainly his, as his wife was captured by invaders at the time she fell pregnant, so he never warmed to him and his second son Chagatai was the one he favoured.

In time though the rivalry between the two older boys leads him to name his third son, Ogedai as heir. In the fourth, Empire of Silver, we see what happens when the khanate has passed from father to son. As extensive as the exploits of Genghis were, I was continually surprised to see just how far the Mongolian raiders went over this time. They headed north and routed Moscow, and then crossed the Carpathian mountains and invaded Poland and Hungary. It seems they were on the brink of completing overtaking Europe. Book 5 (Conqueror) tells the tale of the next few khans, which was equally fascinating.

In his book Human Race, Ian Mortimer acknowledges that if the scope of his research has extended beyond the west, Genghis Khan would have been included as one of the key agents of change of the whole period. His complete scope of influence on the Asian continent was almost unmeasurable. Mortimer also noted that the introduction of projectile weapons (arrows, guns and cannons) completely changed warfare. It seems that the Mongolians were unparalleled in their bowmanship. All were trained from a young age and could shoot arrows on horseback with unparalleled precision. They literally mowed down an enemy before every reaching them in hand-to-hand combat.

I appreciate Iggulden’s acknowledgement of facts vs fiction at the end of each book. It is clear from the copyright pages that the events and people referred to are real, but this is indeed historical fiction. Iggulden clearly has filled in many gaps with his own creativity, yet you are still left with a sense of awe at what this dynasty achieved.

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