Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Conn Iggulden - Lords of the Bow

Moving on to the second book in the series and we are now following the full life of Genghis Khan after having a glimpse into his sort of unknown, and completely fictionalised to the point of obscurity, childhood.

The first thing I noticed is that when Temujin decided to change his name to Genghis, lord of the grass, he has a complete personality transplant. I was expecting to read about the coming of the man who founded the Mongol empire but obviously skipping that bit made more sense to the author. We never see the improbable struggle of the young boy becoming a leader who cared so much about his own family that he put himself through pain and suffering. We just see the ruthless Khan of the Mongols who strikes down his enemies, and anyone else who even hints at personally slighting his borderline friends.

So yeah, I thought that the main character was a twat so I was prevented from even trying to enjoy the story. However, it didn’t stop me from identifying the continual writing style I don’t like. During the first chapter we are introduced to Kokchu, the clearly evil Sharman who only has loyalty to himself. In case you couldn’t tell he was evil from the first things he says, we are outright told he has evil intentions in the narrative.

There are continual writing style issues throughout the book which is at least consistent with Wolf of the Plains. The simple interactions between two characters get confused really easily throughout. There is no structure to the narrative at all and it’s made even worse when more than two characters are involved. I gave up trying to follow the interactions in the end and just went with where I thought the conversations were going.

Also, I’m not sure of the historic value behind the work and while I understand that Genghis was a bit of war monger, would he really think that after slaughtering over 90,000 innocent people that the Chinese leaders simply wouldn’t care? I really did think that these books would portray Genghis as a secretly decent guy. The first book went towards this by showing how he struggled against adversity to save his people from Chinese oppression, however after doing so, he decides to kill EVERYONE. It’s a little jarring.

There are several other small issues I have with the 456 page sequel. On page 195 it is really hard to work out who is talking. On page 228, one of the characters, Ho-Sa is either going back to his people or staying with the Mongols. If this was meant to be a sort of cliff hanger, then it is utilising a device that hadn’t yet appeared in the series and is completely out of sync with the rest of the book. If not, it is just another example of bad writing. On page 266, three different characters are referred to as ‘father.’ I signed up for a work of fiction, not a puzzle solving exercise.

The only notable problem remaining is that of disappearing characters. The red bird, which was a symbol of coming of age and presumably reclaimed from Eeluk at the end of Wolf of the Plains, makes a reappearance on page 298 and has presumably been there the whole time. The amount of pointless details the book goes into and useless exposition, you would think they would mention some of the time Genghis spends with the bird, especially seeing as it was apparently so important to him in the first place.

Also, did you know that Genghis has a mother? You could be forgiven for thinking he didn’t as she mysteriously disappears for most of the book but only after coming across as a key character in the early pages when she opposes Kokchu’s Shaman approach. It seems to start a plot line and then abandons it for no reason.

There are a load of others things I noticed but the above and the more irritating aspects. What really got me is where the first book is about a period of Genghis’s life that is little-known, his conquest of China is well documented so I would have expected the book to focus more on developing the characters, making them likable and perhaps investigating their personal interactions more. It feels like a very lazy book, especially with the thoughtless construction of the narrative.

Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden was published by HarperCollinsPublishers in 2008. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)