Conqueror: A Novel of Kublai Khan by Conn Iggulden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Conqueror (Book #5 of 5)
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 512 pages (US paperback edition)
Published: 27th October 2011 by Harper Collins (UK) & 21th December 2011 by Delacorte Press (US)
I have mixed feelings regarding the final book of Conqueror, one of my favorite historical fiction series.
I’m starting to think that there’s a real curse contained within five books series that haunts me. I don’t even know why or how this happens, but I’m never left completely satisfied by the concluding installment of all five books series I’ve read so far. Lightbringer by Brent Weeks, Heartstrikers by Rachel Aaron, The Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler, and unfortunately, this series. All of them, somehow, felt plagued with the same issue that they either felt too long or unnecessary to be one whole book. That’s the thing with Conqueror: A Novel of Kublai Khan, it felt more like a spin-off of the previous four books rather than a direct sequel or a concluding installment.
“What sort of a man would I be if I could just wipe out my errors with talking? A man has to live with his mistakes and go on. That is his punishment, perhaps.”
Conqueror: A Novel of Kublai Khan is the fifth and final book in the Conqueror series by Conn Iggulden. For the content and what this book is about, the title pretty much speaks for itself; this is a book about Kublai Khan and his rise to power. If you’ve been following my reviews for the past couple of weeks, you should already know that this is a series I genuinely love. Before I get down to the nitty-gritty of what makes this book disappointing to me, let me clarify once again that Conqueror is still one of my favorite historical fiction series of all time; what I feel regarding this final installment won’t change that. And please keep in mind that my assessment and feelings towards this book most likely fall on the unpopular opinion side; so many readers and fans of the series loved it.
“No worthy goal should come easily, he told himself. Suffering created value.”
Let’s start with the main characters. As the title implied and prove, this is a book about Kublai Khan. Almost all of the previous main characters from the past four books are—understandably—no longer in the story here. This situation immediately meant that I’m reading about characters that I’m not invested in. In the previous four books, we followed the perspective of Genghis Khan, his brothers, his sons and Tsubodai, to name a few; these were characters we follow since their beginning and their first encounter. In the case of Genghis and his families, we read about them since they were a child and all of them received proper exposure and character development. Genghis Khan, for instance, has one book that centered on his coming-of-age story. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with the main characters here; Kublai Khan, Hugelu, Mongke, and Arik-Bore were characters that haven’t received a lot of developments previously, and then suddenly to read from their perspectives IN the final installment of the series was jarring. Reading about Genghis Khan and the previous main characters was miles apart better than reading about the new main characters here.
I have no idea whether it’s because I feel burned out by this series or not, that shouldn’t be the case because I still found myself completely hooked by Khan: Empire of Silver, but Iggulden’s writing here simply didn’t feel as engaging as his prose in the previous books. Plus, it felt like Iggulden tried to pack too much content into this one book and that disrupted the flow of the story. A lot of new characters introduced, important events like Hugelu’s brutal invasion of Baghdad didn’t receive enough exposure for lasting impact, and the battle scenes—which were A LOT and was superb before—somehow turned out to be a huge struggle to get through. All of these isn’t to say that Kublai Khan wasn’t interesting as a character, on the contrary, his distinctive personality from the other Khan and his insane achievements just needed more pages and proper development to shine through in the series that has focused the narrative on Genghis Khan, his brothers and his sons, and also Tsubodai for four books long.
“He was a man who loved his children and his people, Zhenjin. He took the Chin foot off the throat of the nation and made us look up from the struggles of tribes. He changed the world.”
Conqueror: A Novel of Kublai Khan feels more like a spin-off that follows different characters and new storylines rather than a direct sequel, because of that, my mixed feelings regarding this book ended up becoming inconsequential towards my enjoyment and love of the previous books of the series. Seriously, this isn’t one of those “the last book of the series ruined my love for the entire series” case, Conqueror is still up there in my list of favorite historical fiction series together with The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. I honestly recommend reading the previous four books of the series with all my heart, none of them ended on a cliffhanger and they’re easily some of the most engrossing (and informational) books—all genres combined—I’ve read this year. And although I’ve only voiced my criticism for this book in this review, I did have a good time in several sections of the book, especially the beginning and ending sequences. Without a doubt, I will be reading more of Iggulden’s work in the future, no idea when yet, but I’m leaning towards reading his Wars of the Roses series.
Here’s one last passage from Conn Iggulden himself about the Conqueror series and why you SHOULD read it:
“This story began with a single, starving family, hunted and alone on the plains of Mongolia – and ends with Kublai Khan ruling an empire larger than that of Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. Over just three generations, that is simply the greatest rags-to-riches tale in human history.”
Conqueror: 21.5/25 stars
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)