The rise of the Mongol
Empire is a great story in its own right. Genghis Khan, known as Temujin in
his boyhood, was the son of a tribal chieftain. After his father's murder,
Temujin was forced out of the tribe along with his brothers and mother,
abandoned to starve on the plains. Yet, he survived, and managed to unite
the disparate Mongol tribes under his leadership, eventually conquering most of
China. The great nation he founded developed into the largest contiguous
empire ever known by the time of his grandson, Kublai Kahn.
In Conn Iggulden's more than capable hands, the remarkable tale of Genghis Khan becomes an action-adventure story. Genghis: Lords of the Bow isn't a great work of literature, but it certainly is great fun to read. It's the kind of book you'd expect from the author of The Dangerous Book for Boys - an old-fashioned pager-turner filled with warfare and bloodlust, acts of cruelty and bravery. It calls to mind the male-oriented adventure tales of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, with the added bonus that much of the story is based on historic record.
Iggulden supplements the facts with an amazing imagination. He realistically conveys a sense of time and place, and imparts awareness of what it must have been like on the Asian plains and cities as the Mongols swept through first the Chin Empire, and then expanded far beyond even the borders of modern-day China. The battle scenes in particular put the reader right in the middle of the action. The creativity with which these events are depicted is masterly, and few authors could pull it off with such success. Small, mundane details add verisimilitude to one scene after another without bogging down the story.
However, the novel is not without flaws. Not much of the book is devoted to character development. The reader isn't really given insight into Genghis's thought processes and motivations. There's very little here that suggests the charisma the real-life Genghis must have possessed to unite the nomadic tribes under one rule. Other characters are equally one-dimensional. The dialog, too, is stilted, a bit like what you'd expect from a Conan movie; much of it is over the top, particularly the motivational speeches (along the lines of "We will kill all the men and delight in the weeping of their women!"). These flaws, however, do little to diminish the overall appeal of the book.
Definitely a series for fans of swash-buckling historical fiction. Readers will not need to be particularly interested in the Mongol culture or the rise of the Mongol Empire to enjoy this book. It's a good idea, however, to read Genghis: Birth of an Empire (first published in the UK as Genghis: Wolf of the Plains) before Genghis: Lords of the Bow. Although the latter can be read as a stand-alone novel, the reader may have the feeling they'd be getting more out of it had they started with the first book in the series.
Conn Iggulden was born in London in 1971. He taught English for seven years, eventually becoming Head of English at St. Gregory's Roman Catholic High School in London. In addition to his best-selling Emperor series and The Dangerous Book for Boys (which he co-wrote with his brother Hal), Iggulden has written poetry, short stories, and novellas. He currently lives in Hertfordshire, England, with his wife and three children.
For the Genghis series, Iggulden traveled to Mongolia to research background material. One of his primary sources was a document called The Secret History of the Mongols. This remarkable text is the oldest surviving Mongolian writing, most likely created a few decades after Genghis Khan's death in 1227. It was originally recorded in vertical Uighur script, but the only extant copy is a 14th century Chinese translation. The Secret History contains Mongol mythology, the genealogy of the early khans, a biography of Genghis Khan, descriptions of his battles, and, most importantly, information about the way of life and society of the Mongols in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Genghis: Bones of the Hills - already available in the UK and Canada; publishing in the USA in late March 2009.
This review was originally published in April 2008, and has been updated for the February 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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