Saturday, 10 January 2015

Conn Iggulden - Empire of Silver

This is forth book in the five book epic that I’ve managed to drag out for far too long, mainly due to the fact that I simply could not get into the book. More on that later, but first – the overview.

In the aftermath of Ghengis Khan’s death, his son Ogedai, is elected to lead over his older brother Chagatai. Ghengis has built a reputation of destroying enemies and not having a home city so, in full respect of his father, Ogedai abandon’s Genghis’s principles and builds a fuck-off massive city in the middle of their homeland. Legend.

The remainder of the story follows Tsubodai as he tries to conquer the entire world while Ogedai sits on his ass at home with a heart condition after his younger, stronger, better looking, more sensible brother, sacrifices himself because some Chinese doctor said it would fix Ogedai. At this point, I was like, what a selfish twat, but I suppose you cannot argue with history.

While the story line follows the historical characters and is loosely based on the events as we know them, is takes bravery to write about a bunch of thugs who went around invading everywhere for no real reason and portraying them as the good guys. Despite this, Iggulden still tries to; albeit very weakly. There is one part where Tsubodai prevents a Russian woman from being raped, not because he is merciful, but simply to prove a point. She will inevitably die a more painful death freezing in the cold after her home was burnt to the ground, but there you go. The lesser of two evils, right?

Compared to the other books that precede Empire of Silver, the first hundred pages or so are actually pretty good. I didn’t notice any writing problems and the writing was well paced. I didn’t even realise how much of the book I had read and that is exactly how it should be. This was also the same for the last 150 pages or so, but there was a big chunk in the middle of the 428 page book that destroyed the pace and felt like a return to the last book in terms of style. There is not really any other word for it but boring. I found myself bored, only reading twenty pages at a time before finding something else to do, including falling asleep.

There are also a couple of new writing errors to pick on. On page 121 the use of punctuation and sentence structure leads to a watermill feeling astonishment at workers wearing soft slippers. There is language choice on page 255, where Tsubodai’s senses are offended twice in the same page where this expression has never been previously used. The writing should not draw my attention away from the story.

There are also the usual inconsequential spelling errors littered throughout. A ‘back’ instead of ‘black’ here, and some misplaced punctuation there, but my main issue with the book is the characters.

Number 1: Yao Shu. The horniest Bhuddist in the East. It’s not so much that his internal monologues about secretly wanting to pork every Mongol wife going wind me up, but more his character change. He wants to pork Sorthatani until the cows come home, but as soon as she gets a sniff of some power, he whips out his hate guns and the horniness goes away. The bit I do not understand is that angry sex with someone you don’t like can be even more satisfying than normal sex with the same person. Use the anger Yao Shu!

Number 2:  Batu. He is just a twat. He is the unacknowledged son of Jochi who, let’s face it, was never really confirmed as Genghis’s son in the first place and for the second half of the book walks around as the self proclaimed Prince of the Nation. Or at least proclaimed by the narrative, anyway. In another show of how big his balls are, he gets annoyed when he challenged Tsubodai’s authority and gets bitch slapped for it. After being raised by the Khan from the gutter, I would expect to see some respect, rather than a sense of entitlement.

Number 3:  Conn Iggulden’s failure to acknowledge a character’s existence unless he feels like it. It happened with Temulun in the last book, where he only wrote her back in to rape and kill her and he does it again here with Genghis’ illusive mother Hoelun. I was thinking to myself when Kachiun died (sorry, spoiler alert, the old man dies) that I’m sure the mother was still popping around somewhere, but we are simply told that she died at some point in the past. I don’t know what she did to piss off the author, but it must have been bad to be written off in such a way, especially when she was a key player to the survival of four of the series’ main characters in the first book and is effectively the mother of the nation.

The historical notes at the end are often a good source for reference material and I always read them out of interest despite them not forming part of the story. I’m glad I did this time because there are some humdingers in there.

According to the notes, Ogedai’s son, Kaidu, was present in at the battles in Hungary but is omitted for fear of introducing too many characters. This would probably explain why Iggulden didn’t focus on Hoelun and Temulun but I feel this is a kick in the teeth. There isn’t a fantastical overload of information in this series as it is, so to remove a piece of history because I’m too stupid to follow it is a very weak justification and also a tad insulting.

Iggulden also omits one of the most famous battles in Mongol history with another weak justification. I don’t really know why. With all the bullshit in the middle of the book, I could have done with some of the more well-executed battle scenes from the end. In fact, I almost feel robbed, especially when writing these scenes appear to be the author’s main strength.

There is one more book in the series and after that, I will be done with Conn Iggulden. After investing in the last four, I can’t stop now. Hopefully the final book offers a thilling finale that will make reading the whole series worthwhile.

Empire of Silver by Conn Iggulden was published by HarperCollinsPublishers in 2010. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)