I had no idea this one was coming, and it was a very pleasant surprise to see it in the bookshop the other week. I love the Genghis trilogy, and this one continues the story by focusing on Subedei, Genghis’ general who is responsible for what is known to Europe as the Mongol Invasion in one of the most remarkable sustained campaigns of history.
All told in Iggulden’s blistering style, this was yet another great read.
The Genghis Khan trilogy wraps up with this book. That was a shame from my perspective as I was hoping for more books. Personal bias there, as I find the Mongols of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries quite fascinating.
The saga of the Mongols in their conflict with one of the pre-eminent military powers of the day, the arrogant Khwarizm takes centre stage in this book. All is not well at home for Genghis and his close family members are either under threat, or a threat to Genghis. Conn Iggulden ends a great series with a neat twist.
The second Mongol book by Iggulden shows first hand just how ruthless and effective their way of war was. With an army comprised of hardened men, all mounted, all expert archers, the Mongols lay waste to the armies of the more civilised and advanced Chinese. With their defeat of the main foreign power on their borders, it seems the Mongols are free to expand until their empire is bordered by the sea on all sides.
As he has done with Caesar before this, Iggulden vividly brings to life this period of history. Turning historical account and tribal memories into characters and events to keep the pages turning is no mean feat, and Iggulden excels here. Lovers of history and fiction alike will find this series to be a great read. Readers of historical fiction may believe they have died and gone to heaven. You haven’t it’s just a very good series. The final, Bones of the Hills is out now.
Historical fiction is another area if ascendancy right now. Just as the ‘hard sf’ writers are making that genre interesting, so the ‘hard historical’ authors are writing believable well-researched fiction that remains true to its time. As with science fiction, there’s a lot to choose from here.
1. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
Along with its sequels, The Confusion and The System of the World, Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle is a stunning achievement, and more importantly and excellent story to boot. Set in the time of change and revolution, this saga spans the time of years just after the English Civil War (1645) to the ascension of the House of Hanover to the throne of England in 1714. This series is not entirely concerned with England, with much of the action taking place elsewhere, and as such shows much of the world as it was at that time.
2. Temeraire by Naomi Novik
Hornblower with dragons. I can’t be the first to say this, in fact I suspect Novik was when she first pitched the series. An eminently readable series set in Napoleonic times. The same players are at one another’s throats – England, Prussia, revolutionary France, however this time each country has dragons as well as an army and navy on its side. The role of a true air force has not been realised, with most countries using their dragons as fast messengers, or to intercept the dragons of others. However Napoleon was always known as a master tactician…
3. Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell by Susannah Clarke
As with Temeraire this novel is set in England during Napoleonic times. However this novel covers the last two magicians in England, and their dealings with one another. I enjoyed the pace of this novel, but others who have read it found it too slow.
4. I Claudius / Claudius the God by Robert Graves
What Quicksilver does to the seventeenth century I, Claudius does for ancient Rome – brings the time period to life with stunning clarity.
5. Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden
This series covers the rise of Ghengis Khan in the thirteenth century. So far it has two books, but a third is on the way – next year, maybe? Already this is a great saga.
James Chambers expertly tells the riveting tale of the Mongol invasions of Europe. This book is a real page turner, as the Mongol battles with the Khwarizm empire lead Ghengis to decide that no nation on his own borders should ever again be strong enough to threaten the Mongol empire. To that end, he send a couple of his generals to scout the western extent of the great steppe. And so it begins.
What in Europe was remembered as a calamity from the clear sky was merely a patrol in force, scouting the edge of the grasslands. Easily able to outfight superior numbers of troops given their greater mobility and tactical ability, the Mongols swept aside all defences, and then promptly disappeared. To the Europeans it was a deliverance from God. In fact, the Mongol general’s allotted time was up, and they returned to report back on what they had found.
Chambers’ book really brings the Mongol empire to life, giving them their proper place in world history, as the pre-eminent empire and military force of their time. Sending out the patrol across the steppes was one of Ghengis Khan’s last acts, and he died soon after. The five thousand mile round trip taken by his general Subedei is something still studied today by military tacticians.
Last year I enjoyed reading through Conn Iggulden’s quartet of books about the life of Julius Caesar. This year, Ghengis Khan gets the Iggulden treatment.
Tracing the life of the Mongol tribes in the early thirteenth century, Iggulden brings a vivid picture of tribal life in a harsh land. Surrounded by enemies or potential enemies, each tribe must fight to hold on to what they have, and raid other tribes to prove their worth. Tribal life is harsh, but far worse is that of the tribeless wanderers, in twos and threes dotted around the landscape, they must be constantly wary. There is no tribal justice for these outsiders.
Young Temujin of the Wolves finds himself and his family cast out of their tribe, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Fighting to survive, Temujin has still greater plans.
As with the Caesar books, Wolf of the Plains contains notes from the author about the real historical story, his research. These notes include details of the areas where he changed things, either compressing events of bringing them forward by a few years, or characters whose names have been changed or simply left out of the story for one reason or another. The notes themselves are fascinating and are a testament to Iggulden’s research which complements his storytelling abilities.