Thursday, 19 January 2012

Book Review - Conqueror by Conn Iggulden

I've loved this series since the start with Wolf of the Plains which began with Gengis Khan, then just known as Temujin, as a young boy being abandoned by his tribe in a power struggle after his fathers death.  That book and the two that followed took us through his entire life and the remarkable story of him pulling the Mongolian tribes into a single nation and fighting back against their oppressive neighbours the Chin.  After his death however the empire stuttered and the previous book in the series Empire of Silver chronicles the amazing push West into Europe that Ogedei Khan inspired.  However his death stopped the marauding hordes and they return to Karakorum the new capital that Ogedei built.

This is the setting for the beginning of Conqueror when all the nation are waiting for a new Khan to be selected.  At this point the level of political and family intrigue is amazing in the Mongolian royal line and Conn makes good use of this to weave plenty of inter family rivalries into the telling of the tale.

Firstly Guyuk is announced Khan as deals are struck with the descendant so Genghis and his brothers.  However his reign is short and Monke Khan his cousin and a Grandson of Genghis is pronounced Khan.  He sets about reverting the nation to the traditional Mongolian values he believes have been eroded by Chinese influence at court.  He splits the empire and new conquests between his brothers and the Mongolian expansion resumes.  He dies before an heir is clear as well and this leads to a civil war with Kublai Khan the victor and who then went on to dominate in China and found an entire dynasty.

Here Conn has decided to bring the series to an end with Kublai victorious over his brother and the supreme Khan.  I was expecting a final 6th book to map the rest of Kublai's life and his domination of China, but Conn notes that like so many his ending was sad after personal tragedy and he's prefer to finish his account at a zenith.  Interesting.

I have really enjoyed all this, firstly as it has taught me a huge amount about an area of history I was very ignorant of and it truely is an amazing story of the rise in such a short time of a nation from servitude to a larger neighbour to the greatest empire on the face of the earth.

My interest in this area stems also possibly from the Rush song Xanadu.  You know the one from A Farewell To Kings.  It has an impossibly odd time signature intro - not unlike many Rush songs!  When I heard that song as a teenager and fumbled over trying to learn to play it (it was one of very few covers my old prog rock band used to play in the early 80s) the mystical setting of this place intrigued me.  No doubt the fact that the song was based on the romantic poem by Coleridge and that it found it's place into Rush's body of work which was largely around that time much about space/science fiction/fantasy (2112, Hemispheres etc.) held with my sort of mythical perception of it.  Now while there wasn't a pleasuredome created in Xanadu the building of the empire that created such places still is a fantastic story.

With a lot known but again huge amounts not proven or possibly the subject to much speculation based on the questionable validity of the contemporary accounts that have survived the author has a significant amount of licence to place his own interpretations and introduce much additional speculation.  This is historical fiction after all and it does work well.

Thoroughly recommended.

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