The best Hollywood pitch for this second of the six Lausard-saga books could do no better than rival the infamous movies Ishtar and March or Die. The two have the dubious distinction that both are sand and desert movies that perennially vie with each other for the grand prize of worst movie ever made.
I love a good French sand-dune movie, so am more favorable to March or Die, and even Howard's Invaders, than should be common. So, Howard can have his take, but we need something more; something spectacular to fill this void.
Maybe Ridley Scott will take it on someday. He has all the tools and assets in place. Somebody just needs to give him a screenplay.
Unfortunately, in this book Howard falls flat and produces the weakest of his six Lausard novels. There was much more beauty and complexity in the Egyptian Expedition than his Kafka-esque musing about the futility of the quest for glory reveals. The book fails to capture the essence and symbolism of the actual adventure.
Much too much that could be valuable about the Expedition is lost in this weakly constructed story. The moral lesson of the book is that the common soldiers were exploited by Bonaparte and the Parisian Government. We get little insight into the Rosetta Stone, the Battle of Aboukir, the glory of the Pyramids, the splendor and anachronism of the Mamelukes, or the journey to Haifa, Jerusalem and Acre. Too much is made about the ultimate leaving of the Army in Egypt. Too little is made of the bigger canvas.
The book spends undue energy developing the bona fides of Sergeant Lausard as a man of the ranks. In fact, the last part of the book is a weak parody of the Napoleonic legend of Bonaparte going himself among the plague-afflicted troops. At the end, Lausard rides into the plague-ridden hospitals and rescues a dying friend from his unit. Are we supposed to think, I wonder, if it was actually Lausard who did so and that Napoleon merely borrowed the story on returning home to Paris?
The main tensions of the story are between Napoleon and the ranks, between selflessness and vanity, between land and sea and between virtue and glory. More than 30% of the book expires before the French land in Alexandria. The Battle of the Pyramids unfolds later and ends about 80% of the way into the book. It's all unsatisfying because the book promised on its cover to be a whole volume on the Expedition.
There is finally, no reason not the read this book as a quick study in the crossing of the Mediterranean. There is also insight into the hard conditions faced by all. A better book, however, can and should be written. The romance of the Expedition on the modern face of Paris, now two hundred years hence, tells us plainly that the time has come for a new look into the whole matter. The story of the Expedition is an important tale, as witnessed in modern Paris by the Obelisk in Place de la Concorde. The Battle of the Pyramids also accompanies Rivoli, Morengo, Austerlitz, etc. on the Arc de Triomphe and in the engravings on the marble floor under Bonaparte's tomb.
There is a great book yet to be written. It could be pitched based on Beau Geste meets Lawrence of Arabia. We can also hope the writer will come from the Gallo, Rambaud level of craft as well -- if not better.