Sunday, 20 April 2014

Conn Iggulden - Wolf of the Plains

Ages and ages ago, I bought a book in W. H. Smith at a service station. This book was not Wolf of the Plains. It was Empire of Silver and I picked it up from my bookshelf about three months ago as the next reading project. However, when I opened it up, I discovered that it was the fourth book in a series of which Wolf of the Plains is the first, so naturally I had to buy the other three in order to read Empire of Silver. So a one book project became a five book project. Oops.

The Conqueror series follows the life of Genghis Khan and how he became the fearsome conqueror who build the Mongol Empire and slaughtered a load of people. Kind of like Hitler without prejudice.

It didn’t take long to come up with loads of criticisms, mainly relating to the way the prose is written. I don’t know if this is because I’ve spent the last six months in the Game of Thrones world, but when I got to chapter three, I noticed that the perspectives change about three times on the same page and sometimes within the same paragraph. No warning is given for this change either.

I’m not just basing this on my Game of Thrones experience either. Back when I was learning how to write, 
I was told on more than one occasion that certain parts of my writing were weak because of the change in perspective and that it showed a lack of control. If this is true, it certainly didn’t matter to Conn’s publisher as the story uses loads of perspectives that change throughout the book. If four people are having a conversation, Conn will switch between them giving the readers a sample of what each of them is thinking.

I carried on being annoyed by the way the story was written. The overzealous switching of perspectives is used on several occasions to let us know that a certain character is thinking something evil. This level of overshadowing is the equivalent of my boss telling me I’m going to be fired in a month’s time. I know it’s going to happen but there is nothing I can do to stop it.

By page 150 of the 455 page series opener, I honestly thought that Conn must think his target audience have absolutely no intelligence whatsoever and are not interested in applying any kind of thought to his prose. This is displayed by the constant and obvious overshadowing and underlining of previous incidents. It was one step above having annotated notes at the bottom of the page such as, ‘This is the character from the previous page who pushed Temujin into a pile of manure. He is going to get his shit fucked up later when Temujin kicks his ass!’

Also, the dialogue breaks were a little non-standard. One character would make an action or gesture in one paragraph and then have dialogue in the next. I had to do a double take a few times to work out who was actually speaking. One character would have some dialogue and then the other character would have an action which appears to be an acknowledgement of the dialogue and then this same character responds with their dialogue in the next paragraph. There are too many breaks and it makes the narrative very disjointed in places. In addition, if I have to do a double take to figure out who is talking then the characterisation through dialogue is clearly weak as well.

The last thing that really fucked me off massively was the use of Deus Ex Machina. To be honest I’m not the best at picking up on this sort of stuff but this one was horrendous and factors in the above perspective thing.

Temujin is captured by his old tribe and thrown into a hole to be executed. There is no way for him to escape. However, fortunately in the chapter previous, a character called Arslan, who swore an oath to Temujin’s father, just happens to turn up at the camp and take an instant dislike to the tribe’s new leader. So it was really fortunate that Arslan is there to spring Temujin out of his hole and help him escape. It’s almost worse than the ‘because I said so,’ approach to fiction taken by  Stephen King in the Dark Tower series, although, on reflection, I think this is worse as King’s was a little bit tongue in cheek.

Now, I know what some of you may be thinking; ‘You said Wolf of the Plains was based on the life of Genghis Khan. Surely this must have been based on real events?’ However, I have done my research! Well, that’s not strictly true but I did read the author’s Afterword where he outlines the real-life events that inspired his work of fiction. He makes no mention of this Arslan character and simply states that Temujin escaped. It would have been much more plausible for Basan to have helped him and I’m not sure why this Arslan character has been thrown into the fray anyway, other than to rescue Temujin from the hole.

I will most likely go on and read the rest of the story as it does have some good bits and will, at the very least, teach me a little bit about the Mongol Empire. I’m sure pretty sure I’ll find some new shit to piss me off in the next book. Watch this space.

Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden was published by HarperCollinsPublishers in 2007. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

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