The Conqueror series by historical writer Conn Iggulden tells the long and bloody tale of the Mongolian Empire in the 13th century, beginning with the famous exploits of Genghis and the construction of a new and growing nation. Moving forward through the dynasty of khans, these books are violent and intriguing, revealing the heart of the Asian Empire that came disturbingly close to conquering all the major powers of the time.
KHAN: EMPIRE OF SILVER is the fourth installment of the series, continuing the tale of the many Khan descendants who played a major part in the Empire. The only thing slowing conquest for them was the question of who deserved the title of Khan, there being no precedent for the way in which the Genghis dynasty should be passed on. Genghis chose his heir well, selecting the one of his four warrior sons who he felt possessed the greatest capacity for brutality, careful planning and conquest. But he had brothers and other sons, and though Genghis had clearly chosen his heir, he had been unaware that selecting his third-born would leave his homeland on shaky ground.
History shows that Ogedai becomes a natural ruler, and his people eventually recognize him as such. Rather than immediately continuing Genghis's bloody war, Ogedai begins his rule by constructing a great city, enjoying a brief period of peace. This is Karakoram, of course, Mongolia's center of learning and worship, and Ogedai shows some spark of genius in the ideas he presents during its construction. This is a project the great Genghis would have laughed at, and yet Ogedai's glorious city was founded on the basis of scholarly appreciation and religious freedom --- new principles that furthered the Mongols' knowledge and ability to rise up in the world.
At its completion, the city boasts a great library and welcomes pilgrims and scholars from around the world. It is a low-walled structure designed to symbolize the growing power and threat of the Mongolians, and with the neighboring Chinese having erected the Great Wall, Karakoram was truly a statement for the world to see and respect.
What Ogedai hasn't anticipated, however, is that the greatest threat to the Empire will come from within. By the time he becomes Khan, Ogedai knows he has a life-threatening heart problem, and concealing his pain proves impossible. With multiple claims to rightful succession of the Khan title, Ogedai's life is endangered in his first years of rule. These threats are frighteningly close and force him to strategize carefully and plan for stability. To this end, Ogedai eventually divides the dynasty into several factions to hold the peace (at least temporarily). These entitled elite descendants of Genghis to become landholders of massive areas throughout Asia, establishing many historically significant dynasties.
With the politics outlined clearly and very interestingly, this is intriguing reading as audiences can observe how a single man's decisions have affected the way the world looks to us. Iggulden has made it crystal clear that it is often a simple matter of chance or choice that determines major worldwide events throughout history.
Overall, KHAN: EMPIRE OF SILVER is quite engaging, an amazing tale based on a period of significant history. Whereas Genghis is so famous, the tale of his continuing dynasty over the century following his death becomes at least as interesting and as important. Though the khans were undeniably barbaric, they were also an astounding and quickly rising power, especially considering that theirs was a newborn nation. Iggulden focuses heavily on historical accuracy and on the major turning points of these conquests. Readers will discover that, had events played out differently, we all conceivably could be a part of Mongolia; certainly Europe and Asia were frighteningly close to being consumed.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on November 3, 2011