Monday, February 21, 2011

Empire of Silver

There's a subtle change in Conn Iggulden's 4th book of his Conqueror series Empire of Silver.

Genghis Khan has died and his mantle of Khan has passed onto his 3rd son Ogedai. Genghis' surviving brothers; Kachiun, Khasar and Temuge, and even his great general Tsubodai are looked upon largely as relics of a past era and Ogedai is very different from his father. He has built his own city; Karakorum, a move that pleases Temuge, but perplexes his other uncles and Tsubodai who believe in conquest only, and can't understand why he is setting himself up as a target for his jealous older brother Chagatai.

What many people don't know is that Ogedai, young though he is, has a heart condition. This heart condition becomes a problem and it changes the course of the Mongol empire in 2 ways. Ogedai's younger brother; Tolui (father of Kublai) sacrifices himself to buy his brother a longer life. This unexpectedly elevates his beautiful and intelligent wife; Sorhatani, to a higher position. She is given her husband's title and rights, something unheard of in Mongol society. Sorhatani makes herself indispensible to Ogedai and gets close to his wife; Torogene. It's obvious that even then she was jockeying her sons into position.

Ogedai dies when his son and heir; Guyuk is on campaign in Hungary. The news halts the Mongol advance, something that Tsubodai wishes to continue. The authors note muses that if the Mongols had not retreated after Ogedai's death then they very possibly could have taken over all the west and changed the course of history irrevocably.

There was one introspective scene where Tsubodai saved a Russian girl from being violated by two of his men during the sack of a Russian. The girl cannot speak Mongolian and Tsubodai doesn't know enough Russian to hold a conversation. He ascertains that the girl has heard of Genghis' and he wonders bitterly how history will remember Tsubodai the man that helped to forge the legend of Genghis, or if history will remember him at all.

By the end of Empire of Silver, an era has passed. Genghis and all his brothers have died, Tsubodai is probably the last remaining relic of the violent birth of a nation.

I hadn't previously heard of Ogedai, I'd always thought that the mantle passed directly from Genghis to his grandson Kublai. This was not the case. In his short reign (he ruled between 1229 and 1241) he started the Mongol empire on the course that Kublai would be remembered for continuing. It was a fascinating look at a little know historical figure and for me it introduced one of the great women of history: Sorhatani Beki.

Conn Iggulden has two further books planned in this series and I assume that they will focus on the reign of Kublai Khan. They are as yet untitled, but will have a reader waiting for them.

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