Connor Iggulden is a British author who writes historical fiction, most notably the Emperor series and Conqueror series. In 2007, Iggulden became the first person to top the UK fiction and non-fiction charts at the same time. His series “Conqueror”, covers the Mongol Empire created by Genghis Khan – Iggulden covers Temujin’s humble beginnings and the background which resulted in him growing from Temujin to the man who would soon become Genghis Khan.

The narrative follows the early life of Temujin, the second son of Yesugei, the khan of the Mongolian “Wolves” tribe. His father is attacked by assassins and soon dies from his injuries. Yesugei’s first bondsman, Eeluk, assumes control of the tribe. Fearing the sons of the former khan may contest his leadership when they reach adulthood, Eeluk banishes Temujin’s family from the tribe, leaving them to fend for themselves on the harsh Steppes. The expectation was that Temujin’s family would perish in the unforgiving winter, but Temujin, along with his mother Hoelun, his four brothers Bekter, Khasar, Kachiun, Temüge, and his baby sister Temulun, survived against all the odds, albeit in poverty. In an argument over food, Temujin kills his older brother Bekter, much to his mother’s anguish.

After a few years of trading with other wandering families, the family establish a small home. But the Wolf tribe return to the area, and advanced riders, sent by Eeluk to ensure the family had perished, capture Temujin. He is taken back to the tribe where he is tortured, and kept in a pit, in preparation for a ritual murder. He is freed by Arslan and Jelme, father and son wanderers who joined the Wolves after looking for Yesugei, whom Arslan owed a debt. They join Temujin and his family and begin a new tribe, accepting other wandering families into their protection. Temujin assumes the role of khan.

Temujin returns to the Olkhunut to claim his wife Borte. Shortly after, Borte is captured by a Tartar raiding party (in real, Borte was kidnapped by the Merkits and not the Tartars). Temujin and his brothers chase down the captors and murder them, recovering Borte. The small army retaliates with repeated raids on Tartar camps. The Tartars respond by sending armies to crush the new menace. It is then that a Chin emissary approaches Temujin with an offer from Toghrul, Khan of the Kerait. Temujin joins his small fledgling tribe with Toghrul’s, and leads a joint army to advance on the Tartars. It is in the following battle that Temujin begins to show outstanding tactical abilities, as the Mongols ease to victory. Upon interrogating a Tartar prisoner, Temujin learns that the leader of the Olkhunut conspired with the Chin to lead the Tartar assassins to his father. He also learns that a massive Tartar army is advancing into Mongol lands.

Temujin returns to the Kerait, then travels to the Olkhunut tribe, where he murders the khan in his ger and assumes leadership of the tribe, and takes them back to join the Kerait. The Mongol alliance prepares for battle, when they are joined by the Wolves. Temujin and Eeluk agree to settle their feud upon victory over the Tartars. Under Temujin’s faultless leadership and strategy, the Tartar army is crushed. As the battle ends, Temujin and Eeluk fight, with Temujin emerging victorious. He claims leadership of the Wolves and takes the warriors back to the Kerait. Fearing an inevitable challenge to his leadership, Toghrul sends assassins to Temujin’s ger. The attempt is unsuccessful, and Toghrul is banished out of the unified tribe. Temujin proclaims himself khan of all Mongol tribes and bestows the name Genghis upon himself.

The book does deviate from some historical characters – Genghis’s childhood friend, blood-brother and eventual rival Jamukha is missing from the narrative. But it provides us with ample understanding of the hardships endured by the great conqueror Genghis and whose early life influenced his brutality in the future.

The next book in the series, The Lords of the Bow, covers the uniting of all Mongol tribes under one banner and led by the Great Khan – Genghis. It takes on the Mongol conquest of the Xi Xia kingdom and the war against the Chin, by-passing the Great Wall of China. The following summer sees the tribes gathered, waiting for Genghis to lead them where he will. They are anxious to be off, but he is determined to wait for the Khan of the Uighur to show up with the five thousand soldiers he wishes to have. While stuck in one place, the new Nation becomes impatient and tempers flare. In one incident, Genghis’ brother Khasar is forced to defend his honour against the sons of a lesser Khan. He is helped by the young Tsubodai, who is rewarded later in the book. In this book, we are also introduced to Genghis’s great general Tsubodai, the great strategist responsible for many of the Mongol Empire’s great victories.

The entire Mongol nation then begins to march southwards, to take the kingdom of the Xia. Facing them is the arduous crossing of the Gobi desert. Having crossed the desert the Mongol hordes attempt to take the kingdom of Xi Xia, the Mongols inexperience in siege craft shows when they are held at bay by the walls of Xi Xia, the division between the kingdom of Xi Xia and the Chin empire is also highlighted at this time. Eventually the Xia kingdom capitulates and Genghis wins a princess of the city as his bride as well as many other spoils of war. From this point on, there is tension between Borte (Genghis’ first wife) and Genghis’ second wife., Chakahai Also highlighted in this book is Genghis’ estrangement from his eldest son Jochi (whose legitimacy Genghis doubts) and the strife within Genghis’ family that this estrangement causes, especially between Jochi and his brother Chagatai.

The Mongol war strategies are also introduced in this book and some great battles especially the battle of Badger’s Mouth (also known as the Battle of Yehuling).

Bones of the Hills focuses mainly on the Mongol invasion of Islamic Central Asia, the war against Shah Muhammad II of Khwarezm and his son Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu and the brutal massacres at Urgench and Merv. Although relations between the Mongols and the Khwarezm were initially cordial, Genghis was angered by a series of diplomatic provocations. When a senior Mongol diplomat was executed by Khwarazmshah Muhammed II, the Khan mobilized his forces, estimated to be between 90,000 and 200,000 men, and invaded. The Shah’s forces were widely dispersed and probably outnumbered — realizing his disadvantage, he decided to garrison his cities individually to bog the Mongols down. However, through excellent organization and planning, the Mongols were able to isolate and conquer the Transoxianan cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, and Gurganj.

However, in the book, Iggulden proceeds stating the Mongols were outnumbered by the Shah’s forces. This could be because sieges and massacres are less exciting than the underdog turning the tables on a bigger and slower foe. Bones of the Hills also brings about the rivalry between Jochi and Chagatai to the forefront. Genghis Khan, continues to treat Jochi badly and the rift between father and son continues to widen. This finally results in Jochi rebelling and taking his Tuman north, until he is hunted down by Subotai, who being his friend, also is frustrated with his Khan’s stubborness. Ogedai becomes the heir to Genghis Khan, setting up the premise for his story to be told in the next book of the series.

The Mongol Empire in 1227 at Genghis Khan’s death

In the next book, Empire of Silver, Genghis’s tough and canny heir, Ogedai, is on the verge of becoming the new Khan. Inexplicably, Ogedai has delayed his coronation to complete a project many deem a folly: the building of Karakorum, a magnificent city amid the wild plains. His decision emboldens his arrogant brother Chagatai to violently challenge him, leaving their noble sibling Tolui caught between them. Yet even as they clash, the Khan’s armies extend his reach farther than ever before, into southern China and across the rugged mountains of Russia to the vulnerable heart of Europe, where the most courageous warriors the West commands await the coming onslaught.

It also brings in a new character, Batu Khan, a son of Jochi and made a prince of the nation by Ogedai Khan. Batu, being a grandson of Genghis, is given titular command of the army under Subotai sent to conquer Kievan Rus and the European kingdoms by Ogedai. Though Subotai is in overall command and the main tactician, the entire army is incorrectly labelled as the Golden Horde of Batu Khan.

The attack on Europe was planned and carried out by Subotai, who achieved his lasting fame with his victories there. Having devastated the various Russian principalities, he sent spies as far as Poland, Hungary, and Austria in preparation for an attack into the heartland of Europe. Having a clear picture of the European kingdoms, he brilliantly prepared an attack nominally commanded by Batu Khan and two other princes of the blood. While Batu Khan, son of Jochi, was the overall leader, Subotai was the actual commander in the field, and as such was present in both the northern and southern campaigns against Kievan Rus’. He personally commanded the central column that moved against the Kingdom of Hungary, and likely gave detailed instructions to his subordinates.

The book also brings about the end of the stories of Genghis’s brothers – Khasar (dying of boils), Khachiun (dying due to gangrene in the mountains) and Temuge (being killed for rebellion). Great generals such as Jelme and Jebe also disappear without too much written about them. However, it does bring up the sons of Tolui, Mongke, Kublai, Hulegu and Arik-Boke as key characters to unleash in the next book. It also brings up Baidur, son of Chagatai and Guyuk, son of Ogedai, who accompany Subotai on his great trek west which ends in Hungary, after the sudden death of Ogedai, forces Subotai to return to Karakorum with his great army.

Conqueror, focuses on the short reign of Guyuk Khan, a weak Khan and the subsequent ascension of Mongke Khan, a strong but brutal Khan in the mold of Genghis himself. Mongke sends Hulegu to carve out a Khanate for himself in the lands of the Middle East and Kublai to subdue the Song dynasty in China. Arik Boke rules the homelands of Mongolia. The book covers the destruction wreaked by Hulegu and sack of Baghdad. It also covers Kublai’s strategic mind and that he was a kinder ruler than the Mongol Khans before him. At the end, Mongke’s death at the hands of an assassin (artistic license apparently), unleashes a civil war between Kublai and Arik-Boke, with Kublai emerging victorious. But, what the book doesn’t cover is that since Ogedai’s death, the Mongol Empire was essentially split into various Khanates and not one united empire as it had been during the time of Genghis and Ogedai.


Read Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series and be transported into the world of Mongols – immerse yourself the strategic genius of Subotai, the all-conquering spirit of Genghis Khan and the barbarism of Hulegu.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: