Saturday, September 8, 2012

A powerful ending to a powerful series.

5 out of 5 stars

This is the final novel in Conn Iggulden's violent, bloody, exhilarating, dramatic, masterful series on Genghis Khan and his descendents, focusing on Kublai Khan as he transitions from scholar to warrior to Great Khan of the Mongol empire.

You know, as much as I loved this book and the series, the thing I most took away from the story arc is the confirmation that men are pigs. No, dogs. No, pig-dogs. And I don't mean men as in “the human race.” I mean men as in the gender. Men are the ones who revel in war, who drive their armies across the land because the land they've got isn't good enough. Men are the ones who destroy cities, melting down precious artifacts so they can stare at the bars of pure gold and silver in glee, who set fire to libraries because they don't contain any knowledge they need, destroying generations worth of learning. Men are the ones who kill the men and children in enemy villages/towns, who kill the women but not before passing them around and raping them several times over, keeping them around to act as slaves for a few years before the women finally give out from the abuse. Men are responsible for all the misery in the world.

Anyway, to proceed to the actual review and step off my soapbox: I hate to categorize novels along gender lines, but I have to admit that there are historical fiction novels with storylines aimed more towards men (having more action, war, bloodshed, violence, etc. and less “mushy” stuff) and women (having more romance, personal conflict, drama, basically lots of “mushy” stuff). Iggulden's Genghis series is most definitely a masculine historical fiction series: heavy on the violence, light on romance. However, that's not to imply that characters are cardboard cutouts and no time is spent on character development. Far from it. As with all of Iggulden's previous books in this series, each character is imbued with humanity--the good, the bad, the ugly, the saintly. No one character is ever mixed up with another due to vague descriptors or similar voices.

Speaking of characters, though there are many others in the novel, it's Kublai who takes center stage (naturally). The evolution of his character, from a sheltered scholar to canny general to visionary leader of the Mongol nation, is fascinating to watch. Iggulden lets us peer into the mind of this legendary man, lets us see his fears, his machinations, his strategies and battle plans; only with Genghis did we see this kind of intimacy, their outer strengths as well as their inner fears and doubts. And I believe Iggulden did this on purpose, to forge a link between grandfather and grandson, creator of the Mongol nation and its savior.

For the first time, I actually have a nitpick about one of Iggulden's books, and it concerns the character of Guyuk, who seems to undergo a 180 degree shift in personality. While, admittedly, we didn't see a lot of him in the previous novel, what we did see of Guyuk seemed to imply that he was somewhat happy-go-lucky, willing to go where others led, and not much inclined to put up a fuss if plans seemed to go awry. Suddenly, though, in Conqueror, Guyuk has become a narcissistic psychopath: Things must go his way or else people begin to die. Perhaps it was the delay in him being named Khan that brought about this change in personality, but when he does, finally, become Khan, he remains a bloodthirsty (beyond even Mongol standards) tyrant, so that when his death comes, it's a welcome relief, both to the Mongol nation and to the reader. Perhaps that kind of personality shift is completely natural under such stressful circumstances, but it was still jarring.

Aside from the minor point, once again I was blown away by Conqueror. The power of Iggulden's writing is damn near awe-inspiring and it makes me quite eager to pick up his other series concerning Julius Caesar.

Read August 23-30, 2012
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program September 8, 2012      

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