My first Conn Iggulden, and quite by chance. I spotted it in a charity shop, saw that it was set in the 13th Century and realised at once that the Mongol Empire and Dynasty was something I should know more about.
It is a biographical novel – think Anya Seton's Katherine and Colleen McCullough's First Man in Rome – which is for me the perfect way to learn history. When well done, it is like travelling back in time and being, for a while, part of it all as it happens. (I didn't just learn about Rome and the Caesars from Colleen McCullough's series of books, it was as though I had lived through it all.)
And Conqueror is well done.
The story opens with Torogene ruling as Regent of the vast Mongol Empire following the death of her husband, Ogedai Khan, Ghengis Khan's son. She has been doing this very successfully for about five years, and is widely respected. But her son, a nasty piece of work, is growing up and itching to be his own man. The problem is that he is not a man despite his size and age, he is vicious and spoilt, and the only person who doesn't realise this is predictably, and despite her wisdom and experience, his mother – until he replaces her on the throne and immediately sends her off into exile.
He doesn't last long, and after his death it is the four sons of Ogedai Khan's brother Tolui who come in line for the throne. One of these is Kublai, who is very different from his brothers and cousins and uncles. He is a scholar and aesthete. This book is the story of how Kublai, founder of the city of Xanadu (and the "sacred pleasure dome"!) becomes the greatest of all the Mongol emperors with an empire that stretches from sea to sea – the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean.
It wasn't until I had finished the book that I realised it was the last in a series of five. However, it stands alone perfectly, believe me. And I feel no temptation to read the other four. I have a complete picture of the period and the man in my head now, and that is enough.