Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Conn Iggulden, The Conqueror Series

As mentioned in my March monthly round-up, I've been reading Conn Iggulden's Conqueror series. As I've now finished a further two books, I thought it was high time I filled you in with what I thought about them. By the way- if you want to read my review of Iggulden's other historical fiction series, follow this link.

Rating: ««¶¶¶ (2/5)

The first book in the Conqueror series details the birth of Genghis Khan and his rise to power, the following novels detail his conquests through China, Russia and Europe and the power struggles of his descendants. The fifth book (which I have yet to read) is centred on his grandson Kublai Khan.

Although I enjoyed the series, I thought the first two were the strongest, and I did tire of all the battle scenes. I think part of the reason I got bored was that I read all of the books in quick succession, if I had left a gap between them I perhaps wouldn't have found it so repetitive. I know some people who are new to the series will like that they don't have to wait for the next instalment, but for me it was too much. I greedily read the first two books, but by the time I got to end of third I was flagging, though I felt like I'd invested to much time in the series not to see it through to the conclusion. Though of course, when I finished Empire of Silver (number 4) I realised the story hadn't ended at all. 

For more of my thoughts, see below the jump:-
The parts that really appealed to me was Genghis' early years and the story of how he went from an abandoned, starved little boy to a Khan, supreme commander of thousands of people and  conqueror of cities. It is a proper underdog tale, and an impressive achievement. At the end of each book, Conn Iggulden explains were he has deviated from historical fact, but the majority of the series has been inspired by real events. I didn't really know anything about Genghis Khan before I read this, so feel as if I have gained some knowledge about the man, his campaigns and Mongolian culture. 
Of course Genghis Khan is mainly known as a successful general, he fought and won countless battles, and this is what made him a legend, but I don't think it was necessary to recount every single one throughout the series. I think battles are very tricky to write, and I did sometimes get a bit lost and couldn't fully imagine the scale or the manoeuvres that were taking place. When reading books that are battle-heavy, like this, or Iggulden's Emperor series or Song of Ice and Fire or Lord of The Rings I often find the war parts the dullest. I much prefer political intrigue, plots and betrayals and family in-fighting, and I think The Conqueror series could have spent more time on this. I remember reading Sovereign by C J Samson, and finally understanding the noise, smells and logistical nightmare it must have been on a King's progress, and that kind of atmosphere was sadly lacking in The Conquer series. I never felt immersed in camp, of Mongol army.  

Another problem I had was how male-centric the series is. Yes, ok, it's a series about Genghis Khan (a man) and his army (lots more men) but there were plenty of women who's lives would have made and engaging story and added depth to the series. Genghis' mother Hoelun and his wife Borte, plus the other women from his other morganatic wives were largely neglected in the series. The role confined to continuing Genghis' line and the lineage of the series, rather than fully developed characters with thoughts and feelings. 

Criticisms aside, if you have interest in ancient warfare or history, or are a fan of 300 or Spartacus: Blood and Sand the series is worth a read. Let me know what you think in the comments below:- 

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