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Book Review: Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden

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Genghis Khan is one of those names that, when uttered, triggers an immediate response on the part of a listener. Some think about some half-remembered history lesson, or a historical movie, or a hero or villain in some pseudo-fantasy story.

He was the leader of the Mongols, a group of tribes he united that raided and sacked China and Asia, and caused the ruination of several cities and cultures. I’d never thought of him being a boy or a young man, the precursor to this indomitable warrior known for his fierceness and skill.

Conn Iggulden has written an exciting book about Temujin (the name Genghis Khan was born with) in his early years. The beginning few pages didn’t quite pull me in, but once Temujin became the center of action, I was hooked. He and his father didn’t quite see eye to eye, and I think that’s one of the reasons the novel was selected as a National Library Association Alex award winner, which is an award given to adult level books that might prove interesting to teenagers.

Birth of an Empire is exactly that kind of book. As a teen, I would have devoured this novel, then looked for the next two in the trilogy. I already have those on my shelves as well and look forward to reading them.

Iggulden presents a sweeping epic chock full of action and emotion. Temujin’s life is a hard one, filled with the setbacks and challenges that make a man a warrior. Once I finished the novel, a looked back over biographical notes about Genghis Khan and was surprised to find most of the events I was certain were fictional to be true. I’d thought that Temujin’s necessity of killing his older brother to preserve his family to be a fictional device, that such a thing couldn’t be true. I was surprised to find that it is one of the primary facts historians know about him.

The author has a great knack of making the world and the people real. I felt the cold harshness of the land as well as the despair Temujin experienced when he lost his father. I also saw how hard it was for him to give up so much of himself to become a leader. Iggulden does a great job of showing how a leader’s life is stripped bare by the responsibilities that are thrust upon him. Temujin first dealt with this as a boy while working to keep his family alive after being kicked out of their tribe. He fell from a position of near-royalty to an outcast, and barely survived

Throughout the many battles featured in the novel, Iggulden delivers unique experiences that put the reader on the front lines. I enjoyed how he explains the intricacies of the campaigns as well as the individual fighting. The lessons on warcraft, weapons, and technique are interesting yet never overpower the drama unfolding at the time.

Another plus in the trilogy is that each book is complete. I want to read the next two books in the series, but I got a complete tale in Birth of an Empire. I was satisfied with everything I read and look forward to the others, but I don’t have to dig right in. In case you don’t have time to sit down and read the trilogy straight through, this is a wonderful bonus. But these are books that fans of Bernard Cornwell and Horatio Hornblower will find fascinating and compelling.

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