Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lords of the Bow

Lords of the Bow is the 2nd of British author Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series about the lives of the Mongol warlords Genghis, Ogedai and Kublai Khan, it follows Wolf of the Plains, reviewed here in August 2010.

The action picks up some years after the end of Wolf of the Plains and opens with Genghis taking over the last of the Mongol tribes yet to join him, that of the Naimans. He spares the life of the tribe’s shaman; the ambitious and scheming Kokchu.

The majority of the book concerns itself with Genghi's attack on the Chin empire, concentrating on his siege of the empire’s capital city; Yenking (Beijing). Before entering China the Mongol warlord takes over the Western Xia kingdom and accepts a Xia princess as tribute. He marries the girl and prefers her to his first wife; Borte. The girl is charming and clever as well as being attractive, it is highly likely that she and her offspring could cause trouble for Genghis, his brothers and sons in the future.

To get around the problem of the story focussing on events and characters that the audience is probably aware of the outcome of Iggulden goes elsewhere. Two of Genghis’ brothers; Khasar and Temuge, are central in this volume. The brothers are a total contrast. Khasar is tall and strong, none too bright, the typical Mongal warrior, preferring to let his bow and blade do the talking. Temuge is the youngest of the brothers, physically the weakest and never excelled at the martial arts as did the other three. Khasar sees the Chin as weak and deserving of conquest by the nomadic northern raiders, whereas Temuge sees the benefit in their civilisation and wishes to add these elements to the Mongol lifestyle.

Genghis fractured relationship with his oldest son; Jochi, is described. The warlord does not believe Jochi is his son, he is the product of a violation of Borte by a Tatar when she was held captive by the Mongol’s old enemy. For this reason Genghis favours younger son Chagatai over Jochi and this has the possibility of seeing the oldest son pitted against his brother and father in the future. Something that could be exploited by the devious Kokchu.

The book moved at a fast pace and the research into the Mongol’s lifestyle and the lengthy sometimes brutal siege of Yenking was obviously exhaustive. My only real negative critcism is an overly long middle section regarding Khasar and Temuge’s journey as ’spies’ to the Chin city of Baotou. It gave the reader an insight into the characters of the brothers, but didn’t really seem to serve any other purpose. The pretext for the mission was to find out more about China’s Great Wall and procure a mason to help the Mongol’s break through it, but this could have bee accomplished with far less pages than it took to tell and without the unnecessary, to me, story of Tong leader Chen Yi.

It ends on a less final note than Wolf of the Plains, which had a standalone feel to it, but as there is a sequel already available that’s not really a problem. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to Bones of the Hills quicker than I did Lords of the Bow.

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