Genghis: Birth of an Empire (Genghis Khan: Conqueror Series #1) - Conn Iggulden A weak-kneed three stars for this one, and that’s primarily because Mongol history holds a particular fascination for me. If this were a novel about the early years of the Sun King or the first Incan ruler, I’m not sure I’d continue.

The writing isn’t bad, and sometimes approaches a level that makes readers feel they’re there. Examples of this are an early scene where Temujin climbs a steep hillside to capture two eagle chicks for his father and the scene where he’s tortured by his father’s erstwhile bondsman, Eeluk, who has usurped control of the nomad band the future khan’s father had ruled. A failure is the set up of Temujin’s relationship with Borte, his wife. Rather it’s the lack of one. Iggulden introduces Borte as a 12-year-old tomboy who’s so dirty that Temujin is hard pressed to recognize whether she’s a boy or a girl, and his primary concern is that she’s not too ugly. Yet when she follows him one night and he stumbles upon her, the sound of her voice and a touch of her cheek and it’s love.

Which points up another issue with the book, and that’s that, with the exception of Temujin, none of the other characters – Hoelun (his mother) or his brothers, Bekter, Khasar, Kachiun & Temuge, for example – come alive as individuals.

I will mention one of the better aspects of Iggulden’s writing – since I do want to provide another example of the author’s skills – and that is his depiction of the ethical outlook of nomad life. There’s only one instance where I think he stumbles in this regard (Temujin’s reaction to Borte’s abduction and rape*/!); otherwise, the reader does spend a lot of time in a truly alien way of life.

I’ll continue with the series because the writing is engaging enough and because of the Mongol angle but unless the characters become more interesting or the writing becomes significantly better, I doubt these books will be well remembered a decade from now.

* The abduction is historical though the perpetrators & its length were changed.

! My objection is to the sensitivity with which Temujin deals with her. I’m not saying he wouldn’t (and didn’t) act so “civilized,” but there was no building of a foundation to make it believable.