Conqueror by Conn Iggulden [Book 5 in the Conqueror Series]

This appears to be the final book in the Conqueror series by Conn Iggulden. While it focuses on the life of Kublai Khan, arguably the greatest conqueror in  Mongol history since Genghis, Iggulden chose not to relate the complete (historical) tale of his (Kublai’s) final conquest of China.

Instead to Iggulden chose to end the book at the point where Kublai wins the civil war he had engaged in with his brother Arik-Boke to become Khan of the Mongol empire. He may well have had an idea to continue the tale in another book, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. For now it appears unlikely.

While Conqueror felt like the most bloody and violent book in the whole series, Kublai was by far the most merciful of all the Mongol Khans since Genghis. From almost the beginning, right until the last bloody pages, the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are expended, and for the most part described in gory detail.

The Plot

Mongke Khan, elder brother to Kublai, succeeds Guyuk Khan as the leader of the Mongol nation. Guyuk was a particularly ruthless Khan and was not worthy of the title. Kublai who had until that point spent most of his life in scholarly pursuit is dispatched East into China by Mongke in an effort to “toughen” him up. The other brothers Hulegu and Arik-Boke are sent West and into the Mongol homelands respectively, to rule land already conquered there.

In his quest to bring the Sung Dynasty to heel in China, Kublai undergoes a fascinating transformation from scholar to master tactician and leader of an army outnumbered by far. However in complete contrast to the tactics employed by his grandfather Genghis, Kublai chose not to burn entire cities to the ground, nor butcher the inhabitants. This tactic probably won him more favour with the Chinese and led to cities surrendering much quicker.

Mongke dies (en route to join forces with Kublai to defeat the Sung), and Kublai’s younger brother Arik-Boke declares himself Khan. When Kublai, learns of this he is angered and decides to wage war with his brother to reclaim the title which he feels rightfully belongs to him. He calls off his triumphant march onto the Sung Capital to return home to Karakorum to fight for his right to the title of Khan.

With the help of his “orlok” general Uriang-Khadai, Kublai eventually wins the civil war against his brother and declares himself Khan. Iggulden decided to end the book at this point and does not continue the historic tale of how Kublai eventually went on to found the Yuan Dynasty in China. It would have made for fascinating reading, so let’s hope he does produce a 6th book in the series.

Note on Historical Accuracy

Although Iggulden once again takes quite a few liberties in terms of historical accuracy, it does not detract from the sense of wonder one feels at the accomplishments of Kublai Khan, who ruled over an empire larger than that of both Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. In fact, the book entices one to make an effort to seek out the historical facts about this fascinating era.

Empire of Silver by Conn Iggulden [Book 4 in the Conqueror Series]

While the Conqueror series should have ended with the death of Genghis Khan in Book 3, Bones of the Hills, I for one am very pleased that Iggulden continued the epic story of the Mongol nation under the Great Khans. Empire of SIlver follows the rise to power of Genghis Khan’s immediate descendents, especially that of his declared heir, Ogedai.

While this book in the Conqueror series is as bloody and unrelenting in pace as the others that preceded it, I enjoyed it more than the last two for a couple of reasons. For one thing, Iggulden does not take as much liberty historically with the narrative as he did with the other books. For another, I discovered some facts of European history of which I was quite unaware.

The Plot

After the death of Genghis, Ogedai does not assume power immediately as was expected. Instead he spends about two years building the fabled capital city of Karakorum, leaving various Mongol factions either pondering his decision with unease, or plotting his downfall. Chief among those plotting his downfall was his elder brother, Chagatai who was originally favoured by Genghis to be his heir.

Ogedai, finally announces his intention to assume the reigns of power, but on the eve of his allegiance swearing-in ceremony, Chagatai leads a charge of the city of Karakorum to usurp power. However the revolt is put down with the help of Genghis’s surviving brothers, Khasar and Kachiun and his trusted General, Tsubodai.

After he is sworn in as Khan, Ogedai pardons Chagatai and gives him the Arabian lands to the South which were conquered previously by Genghis. While Ogedai decides to continue the campaign Eastwards to further conquer Chinese land, he sends General Tsubodai West into greater Europe to conquer and expand their territory there. Joining him with their own battalions of soldiers, or tumans were Guyuk Khan, son and heir of Ogedai, Monkge Khan, son of Tolui who is Ogedai’s other brother, and Batu Khan, the “forgotten” son of Jochi, Genghis’ son who was killed presumably on his [Genghis] order in the previous book.

The ruthless conquests of Russia and the lands over the Carpathian mountains, including Poland and Hungary, were fascinating and quite detailed in the description of the many battle scenes. It is commonly accepted that had it not been for the death of Ogedai, when the victorious forces of Tsubodai which were advancing further westward were recalled to Karakorum, they would have conquered all countries up to the Atlantic ocean.

The eventual death of Ogedai Khan left an interesting mix of rivalries and alliances among the grandsons of Genghis Khan, who will vie for succession to power over the Mongol nation. We also learn a bit more about Sorhatani, the mother of Mongke and Kublai Khan, who become the next great Mongol conquerors.

It is now all set up quite nicely for the conclusion of the Conqueror series…