Genghis: Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Conqueror (Book #1 of 5)
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 403 pages (US Kindle edition)
Published: 2nd January 2007 by Harper Collin (UK) & 1st May 2007 by Delacorte Press (US)
Unbelievably good; this marked the first time I finished reading Iggulden’s work, and it’s VERY promising that this will become one of my favorite series.
Conn Iggulden isn’t exactly an unfamiliar name to me; despite the fact that he’s most well-known for his historical fiction works, Iggulden’s blurbs have been featured on some of my favorite fantasy books such as The Faithful and the Fallen series by John Gwynne and The Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb, to name a few. For years I’ve been interested in reading his books, and from what I’ve gathered, his Conqueror series seems to be the most often regarded as his best works by his readers. And so here we are and my god, I seriously didn’t expect it to be this great.
“Mongolia is an unforgiving land. The boy, Temujin, was never cruel, and there is no record of him ever taking pleasure from the destruction of his enemies, but he was capable of utter ruthlessness.”
Genghis: Birth of an Empire, alternatively called Wolf of the Plains, is the first installment in Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series. This is a historical fiction series about Genghis Khan’s rise to power and if I’m not mistaken, eventually leading to his death and legacy. Genghis Khan, born Temujin, has been dead for almost a thousand years now, and yet his story and legends still live on. As much as I’d love to say that I know about Genghis Khan, I have to admit that my knowledge about him only goes as far as his terrifying ruthlessness and legacy of conquest; I didn’t know about his birth, background, and what led to his legends. Birth of an Empire depicts Temujin’s coming-of-age story; Iggulden expertly shows the contrast between his childhood and his legends. I found Iggulden’s decision to start Temujin’s story from the time he was still twelve years old to be an incredibly clever choice. It was super engrossing, shocking and, interesting to read Temujin’s growth and developments. What I found to be very intriguing was although it’s true that the sign of Temujin’s tendency for ruthlessness appeared since he was a child, it was the harsh events, lessons, and circumstances forced upon him that shaped and forged that trait towards its maximum potential.
“His childhood experiences created the man he would become, who would not bend or allow fear or weakness in any form. He cared nothing for possessions or wealth, only that his enemies fall.”
I truly think that Iggulden’s excelled as his characterizations of Temujin and his family in this book, especially for his brothers and parents; they are all so well-fleshed out characters with a personality that’s distinctive from each other. As I’ve mentioned before, Temujin’s natural instinct lies in his strength, charisma, and ruthlessness; he’s simply a natural-born leader following the footsteps of his father: Yesugei. Then there’s Kashar and Kachiun the loyal one, Temuge the fearful, Bekter the devious, and Hoelun the strong mother who protects them all as best as she could. With such well-realized characters, Iggulden tells a story revolving around the theme of survival of the fittest superbly. Mongolia was an unforgiving land, both in deadly tribal rivalries and nature. Reading Temujin and his family trying their utmost best to survive was compelling; it’s unimaginable for me to put myself in their position. Seriously, they were dealing with extreme starvation in weather that’s extremely cold (-20 up to -40 degree Celcius.) Death walks with them every step of their way, and it nurtured their courage, strength, and camaraderie; they became the death bringer instead of letting the weight of injustice bringing them down. I loved reading about all of these; there’s something immensely inspiring in the physical and mental prowess they unleashed to deal with the harsh realities of their world.
“Courage cannot be left like bones in a bag. It must be brought out and shown the light again and again, growing stronger each time. If you think it will keep for the times you need it, you are wrong. It is like any other part of your strength. If you ignore it, the bag will be empty when you need it most.”
One important thing to note, and surprising to me, is that Iggulden utilized a head-hopping narrative to tell the multi-perspective narration. For those of you who don’t know, I hated this kind of storytelling style; I tend to find head-hopping confusing and distracting. However, Iggulden was tremendously skillful in implementing this narrative; I never felt lost and I was able to easily follow which character’s head I’m in. Not only the flow of the prose never disrupted by the head-hopping narrative, but I also found myself completely engrossed by every POV switch; it was entertaining to see Iggulden juggles the variety of characters perspectives and emotions in scenes that are full of tension and drama. Do remember, this almost never worked for me, the only other books where I found this style working for me was for Dune by Frank Herbert and Paternus Trilogy by Dyrk Ashton, and if I may be honest, none of them did it as well as Iggulden in this book and hopefully series.
“There was no bond stronger than that between those who have risked their lives in each other’s company.”
Reread excluded, Genghis: Birth of an Empire ended up becoming my first full 5-stars rating in two months. Conqueror is often hailed as Iggulden’s best work, and although I’ve read only the first book, I can certainly understand why this has become a common consensus. Genghis: Birth of an Empire is a stunning piece of historical fiction that tells a gripping story about survival and a legendary figure’s rise to power. This book was about Temujin’s coming-of-age and his struggle in uniting Mongol; it seems like the next installment, Genghis: Lords of the Bow, will start telling Genghis’s spreading conquest as one of the most terrifying rulers of our history, and you bet I will be jumping into it immediately.
“He had a vision of a nation. The incredible martial skills of the Mongol tribes had always been wasted against each other. From nothing, surrounded by enemies, Temujin rose to unite them all. What came next would shake the world.”
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)