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Exquisite finale to the trilogy
on April 8, 2009
Conn Iggulden claimed several days of my life reading the three novels comprising his Genghis adventure - and how I wish he would continue to more volumes.
Iggulden is simple the contemporary master of historical fiction. (Please note, these volumes are historical FICTION, not histories. Far too many people think that historical fiction is supposed to be a history volume. Wrong.)
In Genghis, Iggulden follows the rise of the eldest son of the khan (leader) of a small, but fierce tribe of Mongol leaders. After his father is ambushed and dies an agonizing death, Genghis's claim to the khanship is usurped and his family left behind to starve or be killed by lawless wanderers.
The first two novels detail the ascension of Genghis as he pulls together the constantly warring tribes into a single Mongol nation - that then attacks its eternal enemy, the Chin. Each book is rich in historical fact, legend and invention.
The third volume has Genghis, now the Great Khan, in Arab lands, avenging an insult to the Mongols from a satrap of the Shah. As you might expect from a man and people whose life from childhood to death revolved around war, there are extensive battle scenes which Iggulden handles with a perfect touch. You can smell the sweat, the horses, the blood, the death. You can feel the stoicism with which both Muslims and Mongols fight to the death.
Iggulden invents a family and tribal life for Genghis that embodies the few facts that are known and many of the myths and legends. There are the eldest sons ,Jochi, possibly a bastard product of rape, and Chagatai, Genghis's second, who are engaged in an increasingly savage sibling rivalry. Two wives sharing Genghis have their own conflicts. Genghis' generals, faithful onto death, have their own feelings to contend with.
It is, in all, a tour de force. Iggulden weaves in the Assassins (whom the Mongols did repeatedly attempt to quash), a Buddhist holy man, a vile Mongolian shaman, Arab princes, merchants and mercenaries, the Chin(ese), even some Russians whose lives were cut short.
Iggulden evokes an age when death was a constant companion to all. Not only death by natural causes and disease, but violent death, such as that suffered by the 163,000 captured by Mongols who were put to death by the sword as a lesson to the Muslim lands.
"Genghis" in its entirety is a compelling narrative of what life was like in the day of Genghis. It is, in a word, breathtaking and this third and final volume is the best of the lot.