“Wolf of the Plains,” by Conn Iggulden

12 Sep

“Wolf of the Plains,” by Conn Iggulden (560p)

Wolf of the Plains (Genghis: Birth of an Empire in the US) is the first part of a planned six-part series by British author Conn Iggulden depicting the rise and fall of the Mongol Empire. This first instalment deals with the childhood of Temüjin, better known as Genghis Khan, before he became the infamous Great Khan of the Mongol peoples. Wolf of the Plains is also the first of the trilogy solely about Genghis, the remaining three in the series will focus on his descendents.

Temüjin and his four brothers – Bekhter (who is actually his half-brother), Khasar, Kaichun and Temüge – embark on a quest to retrieve two eagle hatchlings high on a hill as a gift for their father, the khan Yesegui. Temüjin’s childhood rivalry with his brother Bekhter is thoroughly explained by Iggulden in these opening passages, as his primary reason for capturing the eagle was to annoy Bekhter. Temüjin is soon disappointed when, after he had risked his life to capture the eagles, his father gives one of them to his bondsman Eeluk. He had been hoping to receive one himself. From there, Yesegui further disappoints his wayward second son by taking him to the camp of his mothers people, the Olkhun’ut, where he is to spend the next year of his life.

Temüjin’s fortunes then take a turn for the severe worse. His father is murdered by Tartar raiders on his way back to his own camp. Upon hearing of the news Temüjin races back to camp and prepares to assume the role of khan, despite only being about twelve at the time of Yesegui’s death. But someone else had plans of becoming khan and Temüjin and his family are betrayed by Eeluk and banished from the camp, left to fend for themselves in the deadly climate of the Mongolian steppe.

Thus begins the second part of Wolf of the Plains. Eeluk assumed Temüjin and his family would die in the first winter alone on the steppe, the freezing weather alone would be enough to see them off let alone the sparse food. But Temüjin and his brothers, with their mother helping, manage to make it through that winter. They then make it through five more and etch out a living as tribeless wanderers, but still they constantly live in fear of Eeluk returning to finish them off for once and all.

From there, the story heads towards its conclusion. Temüjin begins to morph into Genghis Khan as he tries to unite the Mongol tribes against their common enemies, the Tartars and the Chinese. Through force he takes the Olkun’ut, through political cunning he takes the Kerait from Togrul Khan and through his own thirst for revenge over Eeluk he takes his own tribe back. Wolf of the Plains ends with Temüjin proclaiming himself to be Genghis, Khan of Khans and the leader of all Mongols.

By no means is Wolf of the Plains faultless. Iggulden explains where he had taken liberties in the authors note at the end – for instance, in the novel Temüjin only spends a few days when captured by Eeluk but in reality it was several months – but mostly that is for the sake of the story and unless you are well read on Genghis Khan it goes unnoticed. Other historical inaccuracies are minor, although the exclusion of Jamuka, Temüjin’s childhood rival, is noticeable but his role is done by Bekhter.

It is not serious fiction either and should not be taken as such. It is simple, fun and entertaining. Iggulden’s style is similar to that of an action movie – Diehard will not win an Oscar, but it will keep you entertained the whole way through at any rate. Wolf of the Plains is the same. It is a very entertaining read and I flew through it. If you are after a good story with an interesting historical figure as the lead, and don’t mind a bit of blood and gore from time-to-time, then I heartily recommend this.

8.5/10.

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