Bones of the Hills is the third instalment in the Conqueror series which is set in the Mongol Empire during the reign of Genghis Khan. Although the series is continuing beyond this point, this book marks the end of Genghis’s time as khan and the following books will concentrate on his sons and grandsons as they attempt to follow in his footsteps.
At the start of the Bones of the Hills Genghis hasn’t seen his eldest sons, Jochi, Chagatai and Ogedai, for three years as each of them has been sent away with one of Genghis’s most trusted generals to learn how to become great warriors. However, Genghis recalls his generals as his conflict with Shah Ala-ud-Din Mohammed escalates when the Shah refuses to pay homage to Genghis. Even although Genghis is yet to claim the rest of China, he is so infuriated by the Shah, he wages an epic war against the might of Islam.
The Muslim armies are far different to what the Mongols have so far encountered and they suffer some heavy losses as they leave their families vulnerable to attack. When things are looking at their most bleak, Genghis manages to prevail but the Shah escapes and engages the fearsome Assassins to target Genghis in revenge. However, the real danger to Genghis is much closer to home and he meets his fate in a most unexpected way.
As you would expect, there are a lot of battle scenes in this book and Iggulden brings them vividly to life as always, but for me, the best thing was the move away from the constant Chinese wars and on to the Middle East and even Russia. Early in the novel, one of Genghis’s generals has a tantalisingly encounter with Russian knights who are on their way to fight in the Crusades and they are completely routed by the Mongols because their heavy armour proves to be an impediment. The Crusades is an era that fascinates me and I’m definitely going to be seeking out some books set in that particular time frame as this encounter just whetted my appetite for more. The important thing here is we get to witness the Mongols through the eyes of two different cultures which reminds us once more just why the Mongols were so feared.
As if this wasn’t enough to be going on with, there is a great deal of strife going on within Genghis’s family as the conflict and rivalry between his two eldest sons, Jochi and Chagatai, erupts into full scale violence. Genghis has made no secret of his dislike for Jochi, fuelled by his belief the boy’s birth was the result of his wife being raped by Tartars, and his indifference towards Jochi has contributed to the division between his sons. Chagatai makes repeated attempts on Jochi’s life to no avail but his actions have consequences as his father eventually names his third son, Ogedai, as his heir as he is not impressed with Chagatai. While the conflict between the brothers makes for great reading, Iggulden never manages to balance the historical with the personal so I never really felt I got to know these characters and much of their lives are glossed over. Genghis’s sons eventually marry and have sons of their own but the sole focus here is on dropping the name Kublai in anticipation of the forthcoming books.
There are a few deviations from history that may annoy the purists out there but Iggulden explains why they were necessary in the afterword. The most surprising are with the deaths of two major characters but I’m not really going to reveal them in case I spoil it for anyone, suffice to say they are made far more dramatic in the book and it totally worked for me. So, what was my overall impression of Genghis? Well, I’m more than impressed by the conqueror but not so much the man but I’m thinking Genghis himself wouldn’t have it any other way. It is nothing less than impressive when you consider how vast the Mongol Empire grew over the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and what was even more remarkable was Genghis had no use for wealth. I don’t think it’s ever going to be one of my favourite periods of history but it’s certainly one I won’t mind dropping in on now and again.