Until recently I had been reading only non-fiction. I had forgotten how one could become so enthralled with a good work of fiction, that one finds it near impossible to put down. Be warned – Wolf of the Plains is such a book. It is utterly relentless in pace and graphic in its descriptions of combat, turmoil, pain and anguish.
Wolf of the Plains is a work of historical fiction, based on the early life of Genghis Khan. Even though Conn Iggulden takes some liberties with the historical facts, it does not deviate so far as to corrupt history. However, Iggulden addresses some of these in the Afterword.
The plot revolves around Temujin, the second son of the Yesugei, Khan of the Wolves, one of the many warrior tribes that inhabit the great plains of Mongolia. After the assassination of his father by the Tartars, Temujin at the age of 11, is betrayed and cruelly abandoned to die, together with his mother Hoelun, brothers Bekter, Khasar, Kachiun, Temuge and baby sister Temulen, by his father’s closest ally and bondsman, Eeluk. He usurps power, appoints himself Khan of the Wolves and moves the tribe away to a new location, leaving Temujin and the family to fend for themselves on the cold steppes with no food, shelter or weapons to defend themselves or hunt with.
Temujin and his family survive and he grows up to become a fierce warrior and leader. After many raids and battles Temujin manages to gather a vast army of warriors, uniting the various warring tribes into the powerful Mongolian nation, under his leadership. At the end of the first book Temujin assumes the title Genghis, khan of the sea of grass.
One of the things that stood out for me was how Conn Iggulden does not bother with detailed descriptions of the landscape as some authors of fiction tend to do; tall grass flapping in the breeze, gurgling streams and lazy animals grazing. He leaves that for you to find in the works of Wordsworth or Yeats. Through his expert narrative of the characters’ emotional and physical trials and tribulations, you get a sense of the harsh Mongolian plains, the bitterly cold winters, and what it must have been like living in the times of these great warrior nations.
Having had my appetite whet, I’ve already dived into Lords of the Bow, the second in this series on the life of Genghis Khan by Conn Iggulden, and will report on it shortly.