Sunday, 26 October 2014

Conn Iggulden - Bones of the Hills

On to the third book of the series and I am actually shocked to say that the writing in this one is much, much improved. And I’m not even being sarcastic.

We now follow Genghis on his travels through the Arab nations as he conquers and kills everyone in sight. Why? Because some Arab dude personally insulted him by killing his ambassadors. So Genghis abandons his conquest of China, turns 180 degrees and marches the entire nation in the opposite direction. I’m all for this ‘never leave a man behind’ attitude. It’s quite cool. But in terms of military decisions, why oh why would you do that? Destroy one enemy first and then move on to the next. More fool them as well because if you don’t attack them straight away, they will probably think you never will. Therefore, it would be a massive surprise when you march over the hill to avenge your friends who were killed five years ago. That said, I haven’t conquered entire countries before, so what do I know?

Despite my opening praise, the writing issues continue on from where we left off in the last book, this time with completely pointless narrative.  On page 52, Koryo is mentioned and it feels like it is mentioned for the sake of it. The paragraph in question is talking about how they were all happy to be home in Mongol lands, eating Mongol food. During the previous two novels, Koryo is mentioned once and the characters spend a few pages there. In fact, Jelme pretty much arrives there just to be called back so I don’t see how they can say they never had such good food in Koryo, which is mentioned first here, and the Chin lands when the men spent all those years away in Chin lands only. It is not even worth mentioning Koryo.

Whereas the inclusion of Koryo as a reference in unnecessary, there a few key characters who come back to forefront after disappearing into obscurity in the previous novels. In my last review I said that you may have been forgiven for forgetting that Genghis had a mother who was completely ignored throughout the second book. Well, another character has been completely ignored since she was born in the first book; Genghis’ sister, Temulun. One may think that Conn Iggulden does not like writing women into his books at this rate.

Anyway, the illusive sister reappears on page 61 only so that the readership can attempt to develop empathy towards her because she is savagely raped and killed some one hundred plus pages later. It’s crazy if the desired effect is for us to care, and I can imagine this is the only reason it’s in here as the sister has no historical relevance and her death didn’t cause Genghis to kill loads more people. It does, however, give his illusive mother a little bit more screen time as she makes another cameo appearance to be upset about another one of her children being killed.

There are a few other small issues regarding the repetition of names and some repeated information on the same page but it is inconsequential versus the author’s complete disregard of his own fictional characters. This is reaffirmed as I didn’t write anything about the last half of the 503 page book because the majority of it is actually well written. My main criticism is that it is a little dull and predictable and this highlights issues with the writer. He clearly had a plan towards certain historical events that he wanted to write about and has had to put in the boring bits to join up the main events of the story. These differentials should be invisible to the reader, however the fact that they are glaringly noticeable worsened what could have been quite a good story.

Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden was published by HarperCollinsPublishers in 2008. RRP £8.99 (Paperback)