Genghis: Birth of an Empire (Conqueror #1) by Conn Iggulden – Off The Shelf

“Off the Shelf” are reviews of books that I have quite literally taken off my bookshelf (or kindle).  They are not new releases but books I have been wanting to read or series I am trying to complete and are books that I know I am likely to enjoy.


coverPerfectly Executed Historical Fiction – 5 Stars 
Action, Drama, Romance, History and Suspense, Birth of an Empire has it all.  This volume robbed me of several full nights of sleep as I felt the need to press on to see how the story would resolve.  The story unfolds quickly while at the same time the author maintains his eye for detail.  Birth of an Empire is my favorite type of Historical Fiction.  If you enjoy Historical Fiction that places a premium on action, military (or in this case raiders) and war, then you will enjoy this novel.
Plot summary
The story tells of the early years of Temujin, or Genghis Khan as most people would know him.  We begin in the Pre-Teen years of Genghis and we learn how his relationship with his father and his brothers, molded him into the man he would become.  The novel covers much the sparsely documented childhood experience from his family’s banishment, to his imprisonment and on toward his ultimate quest for victory.

The Good
They Did What?
The Author did a wonderful job of infusing the story with the practices, beliefs, prejudices and realities of the of the Mongol people during this period of history.  From the warriors’ ability to live on mares milk and blood for extended periods, their social structure, their weapons and their customs, you are transported to the Mongolian plains and your home becomes a Mongolian ger while you enjoy the story.  The author not only consulted the ancient texts regarding Genghis Khan but he spent time amongst the Mongolian people before writing the books.  His effort and dedication was obvious.
Genghis is my Friend
Like any other genre, Historical Fiction has its own pitfalls to avoid.  One such pitfall is a focus on the period of time to the detriment of the characters.  In this story, the author presents a well balanced story.  As stated above, the reader is firmly grounded in the place in history while at same time, the characters are bold, vibrant and multi-dimensional.  The reader is presented with a vivid picture of not only Genghis but his four brothers, his parents (especially his father), his wife and his major enemies.  This results in a well rounded story that allow for full immersion.

The Bad
Take it Easy, I’m so Tired
As is most 5 stars review, I have little criticism for the book.  Firstly, the story robbed me of many hours of sleep.  On more than one night, when my bedside clock was reading 1 am, I forced myself to shut the kindle and close my eyes.  Outside of this, the only minor complaint is the description of the battle and fights.  The pace of the book is quick and little space is wasted.  Unfortunately, this results in some rather quick descriptions of battle and important events.  In this case, it did not affect my rating as the battles were a minor part of the book.
Final Thoughts
In my opinion, this is a perfect specimen of Historical Fiction.  I enjoyed it and it is easily the best book I have read this year.  I anticipate it will make my top 10 at the end of the year.  Overall, the story is compelling.  While the average reader will have some idea of the sheer force that Genghis Kahn ultimately became, that knowledge is far more amazing when you consider his humble beginnings.  A must read.

Content Advisories
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested.  I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 – Lowest     5 – Highest

Sex – 2.5
There is a small amount of sex in the book.  There are several instances where sex between the characters is implied.  Beyond consensual sex, there were several instances of rape.  Most of the instances were comments that rape had occurred or would occur but there was one scene in which there was an attempted rape.  While it was not graphic, there was some mild description of previous instances.  One of the characters states his wish to use the service of a prostitute on several occasions.  Overall, the sexual content served as context for the time and was not graphic.

Language – 2
The language in the book was the traditional adult language.  The derogatory terms were specific to the time.  While the characters would often refer to others with these terms, they would not be considered swearing by todays standards.

Violence – 4
The story was told in a violent time.  Fights and battles between tribes was constant.  From the early stages there are multiple murders that are moderately graphic.  A character is subjected to abuse and forms of torture.  This is moderately graphic.  As Genghis ages, the violence increases.  There is a particularly graphic scene in which part of person heart is eaten.  Violence is a persistent theme in the story.  While it is plentiful, the moderate graphic nature of the majority leads to a 4 rating.  You may wish to skip this novel if you are sensitive to violence and death.

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Tim Written by:

Tim is a lawyer, sports fan, parent, husband and book lover. He runs his own legal practice and is the founder of The Literary Lawyer book blog and a contributing writer for Tim loves to share his love of reading by providing reviews to entertain as well as provide information to help you make an informed reading decision.