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Book Commentary/Review – Khan: Empire of Silver by Conn Iggulden March 9, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, Conn Iggulden, historical fiction, Khan: Empire of Silver, medieval period, Mongols, Ogedei Khan, Sorhatani, Uncategorized.
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Khan: Empire of Silver is Conn Iggulden’s fourth installment in his series of novels about Genghis Khan and his dynasty. As with the first three, this is a well-researched, fascinating telling of the Mongol conquests, years that had a profound effect on history, an effect that  arguably continues today. (My own novel, The Sultan and the Khan, soon to be available, chronicles the clash between forces commanded by Hulegu Khan and his generals, and the Mamluks, including future Sultan Baybars. The consequences of this clash certainly echo into the present-day.) Iggulden does not flinch from the Mongols’ ruthless savagery, their cold-blooded commitment to victory at any cost, with a brutal lack of compassion or basic human morality. Genghis Khan’s near genocidal disdain for the soft people in the cities remained alive and flourishing in the succeeding generations as Mongols swept through Russia and Eastern Europe to Poland and Hungary, unstoppable, and guaranteeing devastation to any hints of resistance.

In a sense, the book can be roughly divided into three unequal parts. Part one covers the succession conflict after the death of Genghis Khan. The conflict is between Genghis Khan’s second son Chagatai, and third son Ogedei, Genghis Khan’s choice to succeed himself. The factions face-off at the newly constructed capital city of Karakorum, with violent, all-or-nothing, high-stakes confrontations needed to resolve the issue. Part two covers the Mongol sweep westward after the new Great Khan confirms his position, a sweep that would forever profoundly change the history of Russia, and that would lead to eastern Europeans struggling to contest them, and western Europeans hoping they would be like an ocean wave dissipating momentum as it moves from its source. Part three, intertwined with part two, and just a sliver in length, is another succession controversy after the new Great Khan dies. We are left there— Conn Iggulden will certainly be offering another installment to this series!

One bizarre event, dramatized straight from a key source for this period, The Secret History of the Mongols, has Genghis Khan’s youngest son Tolui killing himself as a human sacrifice to somehow appease spiritual forces and prolong the life of his older brother, the newly confirmed Great Khan. The sacrifice seems to work, but not for long. Ironically, it will be Tolui’s sons who end up ruling—Monge and Kublai become Great Khans, and Hulegu becomes Il-Khan of a huge empire that will include Baghdad.

We also meet Sorhatani, Tolui’s widow, the mother of khans. This is a formidible woman in a man’s world, the Mongol equivalent of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a fun character to watch.

One technical issue I am raising—Iggulden does what folks in the business call “head-hopping.” He switches points-of-view, going into the internal musings of different characters constantly within a scene. My feeling about it? It’s a bit jarring, because I have been so emphatically advised against it and therefore trained to spot it. But I find myself smiling. If you can sell as many books as Conn Iggulden, if you have his following, you can “head-hop” all you like. No agent or editor will tell you otherwise! And I found no reduced enjoyment of the story because of it.

For readers who want an entertaining look at this fascinating, formative period of history, provided with close attention to the facts (and a comprehensive “Historical Note” at the end to point out any deviation taken by the author), Khan: Empire of Silver, is a must read. Conn Iggulden’s fascination with this story transfers into an exciting novel, vivid and energetic, with exotic characters and history-forming events depicted.

Khan: Empire of Silver

Khan: Empire of Silver

Genghis: Birth of an Empire

Genghis: Birth of an Empire

Genghis: Bones of the Hills

Genghis: Bones of the Hills


Genghis: Lords of the Bow

Genghis: Lords of the Bow


1. Lisa Yarde - March 13, 2011

Richard, thanks for a great review. This has been on my TBR pile for a bit, I might just have to move it up. I’ve read only 1 of the series but recently downloaded the others. And yes, when you write with the skill of Conn Iggulden, you can head hop or be as melodramatic as you want. Point is, he knows how to tell a good and engaging story, and has the sales to back it up.

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