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.
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.