Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Conn Iggulden: Lords of the Bow

I have three problems with this book the second in Conn Iggulden's "Conqueror" saga a fictionalised account of the life of Ghengis Khan.

1. For some reason the publishers chose to put no indication that this is actually the second book in a series. Had I known I would probably have read the prequel "Wolf of the Plains" first. It is a minor gripe but this seems to be a worrying trend. Alastair Reynolds novels don't give any indication of the sequence either.

2. It is a given in historical fiction that authors will make up stuff to pad out the known historical facts in order to weave an interesting story. Iggulden goes one step further though. He actually changes known facts, particularly relating to characters and the timing of events, all to make a better story. Iggulden does add historical notes which explain what he has done and why but I am still uncomfortable with this. I didn't like it when I read Iggulden's "Emperor" books about Julius Ceasar either but at least I had read enough other books about roman times to sort out fact from fiction. This is the only book I have ever read about Ghengis Khan and there is a real danger of Iggulden's falsehoods embedding themselves in the back of my mind as "the facts".

3. Perhaps my biggest problem is the fact that the main characters, the Mongol conquerors are utterly dislikable. Sure they are brave men and mighy warriors but they come across as unrustworthy, ignorant, bloodthirsty and cruel. I keep hoping they will lose one of their many battles even though I know they never did.

So, I didn't really like the book and yet I have to admit that it is a gripping tale and that Iggulden is a master storyteller. The saga of how Ghengis united the unruly Mongol tribes and gathered them into an army mighty enough to humble the mighty Chin Empire is certainly a powerful tale. Trying to put it into a modern context: I think it would be equivalent to a despotic warlord in some failed African state who just happens to be a military genius. Uniting the warring tribes he leads them to conquer all of Africa before going on to sack Europe, destroying all of our cities and civilisation. That couldn't happen, could it? I hope not. Just the thought of it makes me uncomfortable and wishing all kinds of bad things on Ghengis Khan and his Mongol horde (see point 3 above).

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