Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Genghis Khan..

"The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see their near and dear bathed in tears, to ride their horses and sleep on the white bellies of their wives and daughters."
Genghis Khan, advice to his generals, 1224

Having just finished the final part in Conn Igguldens monumental (my opinion!) trilogy on Genghis Khan, by way of a small post, I thought I'd provide a review of sorts...

The book pictured is the third and final part of a trilogy giving a fictional account of the life of Genghis Khan. Iggulden previously gave us a trilogy on the life of Julius Caesar which I also read - but in my humble view, as good as that trilogy undoubtedly was, this one knocks it into a cocked hat.

I've read all three now (the others being "Wolf of the Plains", and "Lords of the Bow") and in my view, each of them has been better than the previous. So what's so good about these books? Firstly the subject matter - most of us have heard something about Genghis Khan and the Mongols, very few have a good understanding of what he did in his life; where he was born, how we was bought up, what were the causes that lead to him being the commander he was, etc etc.

These books provide this information in a fictionalised way, but in a way that is very readable - but the benefit is that you learn not only about Genghis, but you also get to understand how the Mongols lived, their lifestyle, Genghis's reliance on his commanders - Subodai, Jelme, his sons Jochi, Chagatai and Ogedai (who was his eventual successor), and his brother Khasar.

The first book describes his early life - outcast from the tribes, how he became a member of one of the tribes, and through pure ferocity and iron will overcame the other tribes to eventually join them all into one Mongol nation. The book finishes with him taking them to war with their hereditary enemies the Tartars, who he defeats. A fantastic book, I learned a lot about Mongol tactics, and the surprising level of command & control in Mongol armies. Tactically, they were way in advance of other armies they met; but more than anything else these guys were hard. Iron rations was mares milk mixed with blood they took from their horses......!

Having forged the Mongols into a single nation, with an army of quite astonishing technical ability, the second book describes his war with the Chinese and is about how he conquered huge area's of China (more correctly the Xi Xia and the Jin) - in the process it describes how he would have come to terms with the intricacies of siege warfare, and how he learnt to adapt the tactics and techniques of the Chinese. He was undoubtedly helped in this by having some quite outstanding generals; Subodai (mentioned above) in particular is a tactical genius and like Genghis understood the importance of siege craft very quickly, but Genghis's own sons/brothers are not bad either! The book describes the relationship between Genghis and his subordinates - he was undoubtedly a complicated character and I think Iggulden manages to put "flesh on the bones" really well. The book ends with the battle at the splendidly named "Badger Pass".

This last book is set against the campaigns that Genghis fought after he he had finished with China
and is about his conquest of the Khwarezmid Empire (roughly modern day Iran, Turkmenistan and Khazakstan) and his first campaign in the west. In it the Mongols meet their first elephants in battle, there is a brush with the Assassins, and Genghis faces possibly the largest army he has ever had to face under Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad.

The book deals with the increasing difficulties of campaigning in a hot environment, but mostly Genghis's increasing difficulties in accepting his eldest son Jochi (there is some doubt that he was actually Genghis's son) and the tensions this leads to among his family (bitter rivalry between Jochi and Genghis's other son Chagetai), and his generals - especially Subedai who had trained and practically bought up Jochi from birth.

Having defeated the Shah, and eventually the Shah's son (after a very hard campaign), Genghis orders Jochi killed by Subedai, and names his youngest son Ogedai as Khan - as he is about to return to China to finish some business with the Xi Xia however, he is killed by his second wife (who is a Xi Xia and concerned about what will happen to her family) and this ends the book.


Steve-the-Wargamer rates this trilogy 9.9 out of 10 (you have to allow some room for improvement!), and wholeheartedly recommends all three without any hesitation to anyone who enjoys good military historical fiction.

The pictures by the way are of my DBA Mongol Army - figures unknown but I think Essex, and in 15mm. The army represents how the Mongols would have been much later than Genghis hence the increase in foot troops... I have a DBA Samurai army I use to oppose these guys, and that campaign was 50 years after Genghis died. The Chinese Rocket gun was scratch built by "Lofty C" to meet the DBA army option for artillery.... can't think how old these figures are - I reckon at least 12 years. DG and I used to play loads of DBA but I haven't played in years now... too little time, and I can't get excited about pushing 12 elements around a 2' tile any more, when I can deploy big battlaion on a full size table!

1 comment:

  1. You mean John Wayne didn't show the true story in "The Conqueror"!!

    I enjoyed his Caeser series tremendously but have yet to pick up this new trilogy. And now I will thanks to you.