Wars of succession harken back to earliest recorded history. Turning wives against husbands, sisters against brothers, aunts against nephews. The temptation to wear the crown and wield the power of the throne is greater than the blood ties that supposedly hold families together. If driven away by the monarchy becoming a republic, the royalists wait in exile to be summoned home by the acclamation of the populace.
Conqueror by Conn Iggulden, 559 pp, 2012 Harper paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 350 baht
Yet even out there, the fight for ascendancy continues. Often settled by the demise of one of the contenders, whether it was a natural death or not is a moot question. Wars of succession were fought in Europe, Africa, and Asia, though in Japan it was over who would be the best shogun to defend the figurehead emperor. They were prevalent among the Mongol tribes, with each khan striving for the highest stake of them all: the great Khan. Genghis Khan well deserved the title, but he had sons and grandsons and they had ambitious wives, each out to poison the offspring of the others.
The key factor was to gain the support of the army. But which army? Mongol forces were all over the map, their generals having different loyalties.
British author Conn Iggulden has found his niche in literature by penning historical novels about past wars of succession. One of his series is about the time of Julius Caesar. Another series is about the Mongol period, Genghis Khan and his descendants. In Conqueror, the great man's grandson Kublai is the subject. According to the author's research, Kublai in his youth was a scholar who _ unlike his three siblings _ showed no inclination for the martial arts. However, his father pulled him out of the library in Karakorum, placed him on a horse, pointed him in the direction of a city he wanted captured. With an army behind him and veterans advising him at his side, he did just that. There were more battles; Kublai showed an aptitude for tactics and got to like it.
His successes incurred the wrath of his brother Arik-Boke, the latter chapters devoted to the battle-royal. Tens of thousands died, vividly described, Kublai triumphant and going on to conquer China, which he ruled from Xanadu for 34 years. It seems that family squabbles rather than military brought down the Mongol Empire. Translated into several languages, this reviewer wonders how Conqueror is received in modern China. I find it compelling.
A Deniable Death by Gerald Seymour, 490 pp, 2012 Hodder paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 350 baht
Too good to live
Motives for assassinations _ murders of personages _ fill a library shelf. The shooters and bombers range from intelligent men and women to those with intellectual disability, hawks to doves, people with real and imagined grievances, patriots and traitors, efforts to rid the world of evil individuals. Which doesn't cover it all.
Assassination attempts aren't always successful. Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy died. Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler survived. Ronald Reagan recovered. Nikolai Lenin carried on for two years before succumbing. Then there are state-sponsored assassinations abroad, generally deniable, although President Obama boasted about taking down Osama bin Loony in Pakistan.
In A Deniable Death under review, British author Gerald Seymour focuses on an Iranian who is the bane of the coalition forces. Rashid Arman, known as The Engineer, is the world's foremost bomb maker. Produced largely with American state-of-the-art electronics, they are slipped across the border. With his instructions, Iraqis bury them on the roadside and set them off by remote control. Thousands of dead, wounded and maimed are the result over time. London, Washington and Tel Aviv put their best heads together to deal with him with extreme prejudice. Can this be done without Iran going to war?
The UK takes the lead. It sends two men there to conduct surveillance. Though both are well-trained and experienced, they have personality differences. Foxy is an intellect, well-read, a lecturer. In his view the war isn't about bringing democracy to the Middle East, but the lion's roar of the West.
Badger is smart, yet feels that the big picture is the concern of those in high places. He follows orders to the best of his well-honed abilities. Hundreds of pages are spent on their conversations. From their hide they have encounters with a wild boar, a snake, hordes of mosquitoes and a rare ibis.
Chapters alternate between MI6 devising a ruse to get Rashid and his wife out of Iran, a team on the Iraqi side waiting to fly the two Brits to safety, the Iranians guarding Rashid and his wife, the Israelis planning to do the assassination _ in Germany. Foxy is captured and tortured.
The latter chapters have Badger rescuing his half-dead mate and carrying him on his back with the Revolutionary Guards in hot pursuit. Suspense mounts. Will Rashid die? Will Foxy and Badger live? The author stretches out the tension. Curiously, The Engineer is accorded the virtues of loving his family and his country. Nevertheless, he's too good at what he does to live.
About the author
- Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer