Conn Iggulden - The Great Conqueror
Genghis Khan - A Historical Novel
Virtually everyone knows of, or at least has heard reference to, Ghengis Khan and the infamous Mongol Horde. During his lifetime, Genghis Khan united the Mongols and led them out of the Gobi Desert to conquer much of China and, subsequently, the Middle East. The history of their conquests, as well as the brutality of the Mongols in association with their campaigns, is documented in what little historical material remains, principally a Chinese phonetic translation of "The Secret History of the Mongols". The Chinese copy was, subsequently, translated into English by Arthur Waley.
Conn Iggulden has taken this history of Mongols, as recorded in their own words, and used it as the foundation for "The Great Conqueror" series, comprised of "Wolf of the Plains", "Lords of the Bow", "Bones of the Hills" and "Empire of Silver. The series represents his interpretation in which he has woven a historical fiction underlying and surrounding the conquests of the Mongol Horde.
Wolf of the Plains - The Great Conqueror - Book 1
"Wolf of the Plains" documents the youth of Temujin, second son of Yesugei, Khan of the Wolf Clan. As the eldest sons of the Khan, Temujin and his older brother, Betker, are continually at odds with one another as they grow up, competing for the scarce attention of their father and vying for future leadership of the Wolf Clan.
Eventually, leadership of the clan becomes contested after the death of their father at the hands of the Tartars and is denied by Eeluk, trusted First Warrior of Yesugei. Rather than put Yesugei's family to death, Eeluk banishes them from the clan. Temujin never forgets the Tartars and the treachery resulting in his father's death nor the betrayal of his family by his father's First Warrior.
"Die or live, you will not be of the Wolves. It is done". With these words, Eeluk effectively passes sentence, believing he has seen the last of Yesugei's family and, as a result, future claims for leadership of the clan. Yesugei's wife, Hoelun, passes into banishment with her five sons and a baby daughter to attempt to survive without the resources of the clan, shelter or supplies.
Banishment, with little else beyond the clothes on their backs and given the harsh climate of the Gobi Desert, is virtually a fate worse than death. It is generally thought that such a banishment will only delay death, with the steadily weakening struggles of those banished to survive making their inevitable death more drawn out and, therefore, painful.
In very short order, Betker's true character is revealed through the struggle to survive as one of the banished and Temujin decides he must be eliminated to ensure survival of the rest of the family. With Betker's death, Temujin assumes leadership of their small "clan" and their survival, although not assured, becomes easier as the food and resources they are able to secure are shared amongst them.
Over time, Temujin and his brothers secure shelter and food and resume their way of life to the best of their abilities. There is no doubt that the manner of their banishment through betrayal and the hardship endured in order to survive left their scars on Temujin and this is reflected in Conn Iggulden's fictional account.
Through the remainder of the book, Conn Iggulden weaves an exciting and interesting tale, weaving into it the elements of the available history of the future Genghis Khan, including his meeting of Arslan, his taking Borte to become his wife and her subsequent capture by a raiding band of Tartars, their introduction to, and adoption of, Chinese armour and tactics and, to conclude Book 1, a decisive battle with a large Tartar force using the unified tribes of the Mongols, united under Temujin
Lords of the Bow - The Great Conqueror - Book 2
In the Prologue for Book 2, Lords of the Bow, Temujin continues his attempt to unify the Mongols under one leader. For some clans, they willingly join Temujin and his vision for a unified nation under his leadership. For other tribes, such as the Naimans and the Wolf Clan, he must first remove the existing leadership, then unify and incorporate them into the Mongol Nation under his leadership as Genghis Khan. In Lords of the Bow, he completes his program of unification, thereby creating the famous (infamous?) Mongol nation (or "Horde").
With the defeat of the Naimkans, he takes Kokchu on as his shaman, not recognizing his ambitiousness. Kokchu soon seizes an opportunity to secure his position by healing Temuge, Genghis Khan's younger brother. Emphasizing his role and the extent of his "cure", Kokchu becomes shaman for the clans. As a result, Temuge becomes enamoured of Kokchu's power and becomes his apprentice.
Inevitably, melding and unifying the clans brings old feuds to the forefront. In attempting to beat one of Genghis Khan's brothers as a lesson, another brother (Temuge) and another come to his aid. Thus we are introduced to one of Genghis Khan's future and greatest generals, Tsubodai.
Recognizing years of manipulation and taking a daring risk, Genghis Khan decides to initiate a campaign of conquest directed at the lands of the Chin (China). In order to do so, however, he must take approximately 60,000 warriors comprising the Mongol Horde, together with their families and lifestock, in short, all they own, across the Gobi Desert to attack Xi Xia. This was no small undertaking, to be taken lightly, but Genghis Khan feels the prize is worth the risk. Having broken through the defenses to the Xi Xia valley, Genghis Khan then moves on to lay siege to the city of Yinchuan. A significant portion of the first third of the Lord of the Bows addresses the early stages of the campaign, particularly the siege of Yinchuan.
In contrast to a military siege of Yinchuan, Genghis Khan involves an aspect of subterfuge with regard to his siege of Baotou, sending two of his brothers (Khasar and Temuge) along with Ho Sa, indentured to Genghis Khan's service for a year, to infiltrate Baotou and evaluate its defenses. Once they reach the city, the contract the services of an engineer and make a valuable contact in the Baotou underworld (Chen Yi), both of whom play a role in the fall of the city.
Another key aspect of the Mongol campaign incorporated into Book 2 is the fall of Badger's Mouth Pass, culminating in the siege of Yenking. The Mongols first scout the pass and its various approaches, identifying a weakness. This weakness is subsequently exploited, leading to the defeat of the Chin forces defending the pass, the fall of its forts and access to Yenking. Tsubodai, leading the Young Wolves, also plays a critical role in the battle, coming to reinforce Genghis Khan at a critical point in the battle.
Conn Iggulden then compresses the remainder of Genghis Khan's campaign against the Chin into a story. According to historical records, Genghis Khan and his armies attacked ninety cities in a single year. It would be impractical to attempt to describe the conquest of each individual city in the campaign. Furthermore, in weaving a novel around a historical account, one must take some liberties on behalf of readability. In addition, we are introduced to the children of Genghis Khan, most notably, Jochi and Chagatai, who are constantly vying, and eventually fighting, for their position as heirs of Genghis Khan.
The historical records document some of the brutality of the Mongols accompanying their conquests and Conn Iggulden captures this in the series. Perhaps Genghis Khan's greatest psychological weapon was a series of three tents he had erected outside each city at the start of a siege. The first tent, a white tent, signifies that the city and it's occupants will be spared if the city is surrendered by sunset. If not, the following dawn a blood red tent is erected on the frame, signifying that every man in the city will be put to the sword if the city is not surrendered. In the event the city inhabitants decide to ignore the red tent, it, too, is taken down and the third and final tent, black in colour, is erected. The black tent signifies that there will be no mercy. If, or perhaps more accurately when, the city falls, the entire population will be put to the sword.
Bones of the Hills - The Great Conqueror - Book 3
Bones of the Hills is the third book of the "The Great Conqueror" series, continuing the story of the Genghis Khan and the Mongol Hordes conquest of Chin. After one of their "diplomatic" caravans is captured and its accompanying men killed, Genghis Khan sends demands for justice to the Governor of Otrar, only to have his men arrested. A second envoy of men are executed and their heads sent back.
Having exhausted his patience with his attempts for a diplomatic resolution, Genghis Khan abandons his campaign of conquest against the Chin to embark on a campaign against the Arabs of Shah Mohammed. Recalling his generals from Chin to Mongolia, he begins his preparations for his next campaign.
Meanwhile, his sons are being trained in the art of Mongol warfare under two of Genghis Khans generals. Jochi is trained by Tsubodai, while Chagatai is trained by Jelme. The tension between the two eldest sons is heightened by Genghis Khan's uncertainty as to whether he is Jochi's father, an uncertainty Chagatai delights in spreading. Jochi is continually striving for some sign of approval from his father and, as a result, Jochi escalates an unfriendly discussion of the characteristics of a tiger received as a tribute into a challenge to face the tiger in combat.
As the Governor of Otrar was the point of contact for Genghis Khan's diplomatic attempts and the individual who ordered the arrest of his men, it is that city to which Genghis Khan directs his army. Hearing of the incursion of the Mongol army, Inalchuk, the Governor of Otrar, sends a request for aid to Shah Mohammed, who responds by mobilizing an army of almost 200,000 (approximately twice the size of the Mongol army).
In closing with the Shah's army, two of Genghis Khan's generals, Jochi and Jebe, leading twenty thousand horsemen, come into contact with approximately thirty thousand of the Shah's cavalry, leading them on a chase of approximately 150 miles over many days. Finally, the Mongol horsemen turn and attack the Arab cavalry, utterly destroying them and, as a result, the majority of the Shah's cavalry force.
In similar manner, the remainder of the Mongol army harries the Shah's army, gradually weakening it over time with repeated attacks and sorties, finally destroying the final thirty thousand within sight of Otrar. The Shah, with his sons and a loyal guard, escapes the destruction of his army and, as they flee, come across the weakly defended camp of the Mongols, protected by the wounded warriors of the Mongol army. Despite being so lightly defended, the Shah and his men are surprised by the ferocity of the Mongol women as they fight to defend the camp and their lives. The wounded warriors and the children join in the defense, minimizing the casualties until the Mongol army can come to their aid. Thus begins another long chase as the Shah and his sons flee the wrath of Tsubodai and Jebe as they pursue them relentlessly to the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Bones of the Hill covers aspects of Genghis Khan's campaign against Otrar and Samarkand, while other cities in the historical records are only mentioned. After his siege of Samarkand, Genghis Khan was attacked by several Assassins while riding into the conquered city. Although not badly injured, he has survived his second encounter with Assassins. During his campaign in Chin, he was cut with a poisoned blade by an Assassin and was very sick for several days afterward. As a result, he decides to undertake a campaign against Shia Assassins so as to remove them as a future threat.
Meanwhile, Jelaudin, Shah Mohammed's son has been actively engaged in raising a Muslim army to send against the Mongols. In addition, Jochi despairs of ever gaining the respect, let alone acknowledgement, of his father and, after being betrayed by his brother in battle, takes his tuman (the men loyal to him) into exile.
These are other threads in the story of Genghis Khan that author Conn Iggulden weaves into his historical novel. The books comprising "The Great Conqueror" series are well written, condensing the history of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde into a highly enjoyable story well worth reading.
Empire of Silver - The Great Conqueror - Book 4
"Empire of Silver" continues the story of the Mongol Horde after the death of Genghis Khan, under whose leadership the Mongole clans were united and initiated their conquest of much of the Far East and the Asian continent.
After the death of Genghis Khan, leadership of the Mongol nation passes to Ogedai, Genghis Khan's third son. However, with such power at hand, passage of the leadership is not without strife, as Chagatai, Genghis Khan's second, and oldest surviving, son challenges Ogedai for leadership with an attempted coup.
Having survived the coup, Ogedai divides his attention between completing his city, the white city of Karakhorum, and conquering the lands of eastern Europe. Due to his failing health, Ogedai decides to allow Chagatai to live, despite his attempted coup, which provides a constant threat to his leadership and the stability of the Mongol nation. Tsubadai has taken charge of the "princes" of the Mongol nation, the sons of Genghis Khan's heirs and, as a result, has their constant arrogance and pride as a continual threat to his leadership of the tumens comprising the Mongol Horde.
Having conquered much of the Far East, Ogedai turns his eyes to the west. He directs the Mongol's greatest general, Tsubodai, to take the army west and undertake the conquest of western Asia and Europe. Tsubodai's personal dream is to conquer tha lands all the way to the "sea" (the Atlantic Ocean), thus placing all the lands from sea to sea under Mongol rule.
It is stunning to read, in this historical fiction, just how easily the Mongol Horde overcomes the armies sent to oppose them and how quickly the great cities of Europe fall to Mongol conquest.
In his Historical Notes at the end of the book, Conn Iggulden states "... Ogedai's death would be one of the crucial turning points of history. Western Europe could not have stood against them. The medieval castles there were no more daunting than walled Chin (Chinese) cities, and in the field, the Mongol style of fast-striking ntactical warfare would have been practically unstoppable. It is no exaggeration to say the future of the West changed when Ogedai's heart failed".
"Empire of Silver" is a fascinating historical novel, ther fourth installment in Conn's Iggluden's "The Great Conqueror" series. It is well written and very interesting. I strongly recommend it!
Have you read The Great Conqueror series? Have you read Conn Iggulden's Emperor series? What did you think? Did you like them, hate them or were you indifferent? Leave your opinion.