Ambition, Brutality, and Perseverance in the Khan Dynasty series by Conn Iggulden

The rise and decline of the Mongol Empire

Imagine Game of Thrones, without dragons and zombies, and spanning 100 years of actual history. That’s about the simplest description I can offer for Conn Iggulden’s Khan Dynasty series. The five book historical fiction series begins in the late 1100s with the desperate and brutal childhood of Genghis and ends a century later with the ascendency of his grandson, Kublai.

For the sake of storytelling, Iggulden occasionally departs from the historical record (he informs us in the endnotes where he has done so), but otherwise he painstakingly combines the known historical record with his inferences of what might have happened in the remaining gaps.

Highly recommended.

With the exceptions of civilizations in Africa, Australia, and the Americas, the Mongol Empire affected—either through the existential terror that came from the prospect of being conquered (i.e. Western Europe and South Asia) or from having actually been conquered (everyone else) every civilization. No empire ever grew so fast or ruled so much.

Some quotes from the series:

Courage cannot be left like bones in a bag. It must be brought out and shown the light again and again, growing stronger each time. If you think it will keep for the times you need its you are wrong, It is like any other part of your strength. If you ignore it, the bag will be empty when you need it most.

Book 2

“Genghis did not allow fools to be promoted, and that was a matter of pride for Ho Sa [a conscript, who was initially reluctant and later served enthusiastically]. He rode with the greatest army in the world, as a warrior and a leader. It was no small thing for a man, being trusted.

“How much weight can a man carry without being too slow to fight?” [Reminded me of Eustace Conway‘s quip, “The more you know, the less you carry.”]

Book 3

“We strive and we suffer because we know through those things that we are alive.”

“All that matters is what we do now. We are our only judges…”

Book 4

“Take hold of your life with both hands and crush it to you, my lord. You will not have another in this world.”

If he had learned anything in manhood, it was that it didn’t matter what other people thought of him—even the ones he respected. In the end, he would patch together a life, with its sorry errors and triumphs, just as they had.

Book 5

No worthy goal should come easily, he told himself. Suffering created value.

Somehow, as the years passed, Yao Shu had lost sight of his first ambitions. It was strange how a man could forget himself in the thousand tasks of a day.

Good decisions were never made in anger.

…he would not explain himself to one who would never understand what he was trying to do.

“It matters that we use what we are given, for just our brief time in the sun…. It’s all you can say, when the end comes: ‘I did not waste my time.’ I think that matters. I think it may be all that matters.”