Lords Of The Bow by Conn Iggulden [Book 2 in the Conqueror Series]

Conn Iggulden continues the epic life story of Temugen, now known by the name of Genghis Khan, in this second book in the Conqueror series. The legend of Genghis continues at a pace not as relentless as in the first book Wolf of the Plains, but not quite sedate either.

Genghis having united the warring Mongolian tribes into one nation under his supreme leadership, realises that the mammoth task requires him to cement his authority by means that would necessitate being both ruthless and fearless.

To this end Genghis decides to penetrate the land of the Xi Xia, Jin and Chin [China], take on this long-time enemy in their own terrain and bring them into submission. The journey South across a harsh Gobi desert, into Chin lands right up to the walls of the fortress-like cities had never been attempted before by any of the Mongolian tribes, in such vast numbers. Having had initial success crossing through the Great Wall into Chinese lands and securing his first great win in battle against the Xi Xia, Genghis realises that attacking the walled cities would require a little more thought and help from the inside.

He dispatches two of his brothers to infiltrate a walled city to learn the secrets of how they were built and how to destroy them. Having gained this knowledge, Genghis returns to sack and destroy the Chin cities one by one. In his quest to dominate the Chinese empire, he takes on the mighty Imperial army and wins a colossal battle at a mountain pass leading to the great walled city of Yenking [later Peking, now Beijing].

The vanquished Chinese general flees the scene o battle and returns to the city where he murders the young Chinese Emperor and assumes power by appointing himself Regent to the official heir to the throne who was a very young boy at this time.

Genghis Khan sets up camp with his victorious army outside the walled city of Yenking, and makes a few failed attempts to attack the city with trebuchets and other weapons. He decides to wait and let the city starve for many years before the General finally decides to surrender, first making a crafty deal using the services of the Mongolian Shaman Kokchu, to prevent the city from being burned to the ground.

In this second book, we get only brief glimpses of Genghis’ relationship with his growing sons. Of interest is his estranged relationship with his eldest son Jochi, who he suspects of being a bastard son by his first wife Borte who was raped in the first book by a Tartar warrior.

I’m sure there’s more about his developing relationship with his sons in the next book, Bones of the Hills, but I’ve only just started that one…

Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden [Book 1 in the Conqueror Series]

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.