Genghis: Bones of the Hill by Conn Iggulden

The following review was published with the permission of the reviewer, Lisa Yarde. The review was originally published on the Historical Novel Review site.
Any novel that takes on the life of the Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan has to be dramatic and sweeping in its scale, to do justice to the enigmatic life of its subject. Conn Iggulden’s Genghis: Bones of the Hill was my first Kindle purchase and a great introduction into the author’s view of Mongolian steppe life. I’m late to the Khan series and reading the books out of sequence, but Iggulden completely immerses his reader in the storyline, so that I had a good feeling for the character development from the two earlier novels.
Genghis’ sons, brothers, and generals have completed bloody military campaigns against the Khan’s enemies. On the southern steppes, the great general Tsubodai has defeated Russians in battle with the support of Jochi, Genghis’ eldest son. In the kingdom of Koryo, the second son Chagatai and General Jelme await the full submission of the Koryon emperor. On the outskirts of Chin lands, Genghis’ brother Khasar with the Khan’s third son Ogedai plans the final destruction of Kaifeng. All receive the summons to return home at Genghis’ command because he plans to make war on the Islamic dynasty of Khwarezmia.  
The relationships in the novel bear a tremendous strain, the most obvious being the conflicts between Genghis and Jochi, and in turn, Jochi and Chagatai. The divisions stem from Jochi’s conception. Early in Genghis’ first marriage, his wife was stolen and given away to another man. He rescued her and within a year, she gave birth to Jochi. Genghis cannot forgive his son for the circumstances of his conception, and Chagatai as his brother’s rival refuses to follow “the rape-born whelp,” his favorite term for Jochi. He even goes so far as goading Jochi into fighting a tiger, and nearly deserting him in a key moment of battle. Jochi’s resentment is painfully laid bare on the pages, and his plight is sympathetic.
When Genghis sends his family and generals against the Khwarezmia Dynasty, Iggulden also provides the viewpoint of the enemy, the Shah Alaudin and his eldest son, Jelaudin. Iggulden shows great skill in portraying equally sympathetic antagonists and protagonists. The Shah and his son begin with the intent of destroying the Mongol invaders, but soon Alaudin dies and Jelaudin must struggle to assume his father’s power.
Everything about life on the steppes is hard for the characters, whether in the daily struggle to survive brutal weather or fierce conflicts, or in the punishments they mete out to various enemies. Each character is fully fleshed out, their emotions deftly sketched. Iggulden makes the reader feel Genghis’ righteous fury against the Shah for the deaths of his men, his general Tsubodai’s sadness when the Khan asks him to commit a murder that goes against his principles, and Jelaudin’s religious fervor, in equal parts. While Amazon reviews are sharply divided over the merits of Iggulden’s writing (one reviewer claimed “the author has raped historical facts…”), I loved Genghis: Bones of the Hill, even for its bittersweet ending. I look forward to reading an advance copy of the next title from Iggulden, Khan: Empire of Silver. 




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6 Responses to “Genghis: Bones of the Hill by Conn Iggulden”

  1. Walt M says:

    It's difficult to find historical facts sometimes. However, as long as you accept that it's historical fiction, you shouldn't get overly bent out of shape about it.

  2. Rachna Chhabria says:

    I feel historical fiction is difficult to write, because of the extensive research involved and the fact that I may get it wrong.

  3. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Walt and Rachna. I love historical fiction and I've read the first of Iggulden's Genghis series (I've got the review waiting, but this just came up on the HNR site, so I thought I'd share them out of order.) I DID wonder how close his facts were to reality, but I have never assumed his fiction was truth. How can it be? As you say, Walt, it's FICTION. LOL That said, I enjoy historical fantasy as a genre and that's what I always label what I do in historical writing. It makes things much easier for me because I can knowingly "fudge my facts" and it means the reader will understand this is not factual. Who knows, maybe it will interest them enough in the history to look up the real details. 🙂

  4. Carole Towriss says:

    My adopted daughters are Kazakhs. Kazakhs are descendants of Genghis Khan, as they will proudly tell you. (Perhaps that's why the eldest is so aggressive…?) I had not heard of this series. I can't wait to read them.
    I think you always have to assume the writer may have taken some license. That's what makes it fiction (and usually more interesting.)

  5. Karen Lange says:

    This sounds interesting, glad you shared this with us. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres.
    Have a good weekend,
    Karen 🙂

  6. Victoria Dixon says:

    Hey, thanks for dropping by, Carole! I did not know you had adopted kids. My daughter's adopted from China (hence the poster for Holt Intl. on the site). And I agree with you on the whole fiction thing. Otherwise, it's a biography. ;D

    Thanks for coming by, Karen. Historicals are a long-time love of mine. In fact, I know Carole from an historical critique group. Most of what I read is either historical in nature and/or fantasy, so I really look forward to reading this entire series.

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