Conqueror by Conn Iggulden

Article published on December 28, 2011.

Conqueror is the final instalment in Iggulden’s series based on the line of Genghis Khan. Having followed the lives of Genghis, his sons and now his grandsons, the concluding chapter of this story centres on the life of Kublai.

This once again has the same mixed blessings as the original trilogy did – that many readers will have heard the name, but possibly know little or nothing about the man behind the legend. Iggulden approaches Kublai’s life with his customary flair. The characters are as well drawn as ever, the story captivating, and the pace of the narrative rarely slows from the first page to the last.

In the early stages there are a few occasions when the sheer scale of the cast can be somewhat daunting, but there is more than enough strength in the plot to ensure this is never sufficient to undermine the enjoyment of the story itself. The violence that is ever present in the series remains at a necessarily brutal level given the period and subject matter, and never feels gratuitous as can be the case in some historical novels.

In the case of a series that has been so thoroughly enjoyed it is difficult to review any one book in isolation. Despite which, this reviewer found the depth of culture that is portrayed in Conqueror, and the manner in which Iggulden communicates it, truly something to behold. Even without the context that exists from the earlier novels, this piece alone builds Mongol culture from the ground up and weaves a web of characters against it that are utterly believable.

The beauty of Iggulden’s work has been that he manages to create elaborate characters that are both inspirational leaders and deeply troubled men. Equally even the ‘bad guys’ in the novel always have elements to them that are at the very least understandable, even if their motivations still underline the unpleasant nature of their souls. Conqueror achieves this perfectly, with the character arc of Kublai especially elaborate. From his scholarly youth to his violent adulthood, we are drawn along through the twists and turns of a fascinating life which often continues to be unpredictable.

Conqueror then is as sound a historical novel as one would expect from such a seasoned author. It draws together any outstanding strands from the previous stories, and presents a final dramatic outing for Genghis’ dynasty. There are plenty of surprises in store, even through to the final chapters. Given the time of year this would probably be a suitable time to recommend this as a Christmas present, though if your friend or relative is a historical fiction ‘geek’ I would recommend they start at the beginning. All the way back with Wolf of the Plains.

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