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Empire of Sand Paperback – 2 Oct 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review (2 Oct. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755329260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755329267
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 97,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rob Ryan was born in Liverpool. He has written for The Face, Arena, Conde Nast Traveller, Esquire, GQ Magazine and The Sunday Times. He lives in north London with his wife and three children.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Robert Ryan has long been one of the most accomplished writers is in what might loosely be called the crime and thriller field, demonstrating a masterly authority when it comes to evoking a variety of historical eras (notably the Second World War). But as Empire of Sand pleasurably demonstrates, Ryan's interest in history is giving him a very wide remit, and the book is in fact a vigorous reinvention of the life of Thomas Edward Lawrence -- Lawrence of Arabia, no less. It is a brave author who takes on a figure quite as iconic as T E Lawrence; apart from David Lean’s celebrated movie, there is of course, Lawrence's own classic account of his desert campaign, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom). But it is to Ryan's considerable credit that his epic novel is more than able to hold its own in this luminous company.

As the First World War tears Europe apart, an ambitious young officer in the intelligence services, Thomas Lawrence, is sent to Cairo, where he toils in the GHQ Map Room. But he is very different from many of the English officers who surround him -- he does not regard the Arab nation with the same disdain as many of his colleagues, and nurses a strong desire to do something positive for these people. His brief is to liaise with a cadre of spies in the Levant, and Lawrence comes to believe that it is his destiny to inaugurate an Arab revolt to unseat the oppressive Ottoman presence. But as the situation becomes more bloody and lethal (with a spate of kidnappings which are the work of a notorious German agent), Lawrence finds himself dealing with Captain Harold Quinn, assigned to kill the German agent, Wassmuss. And as Lawrence and Quinn (along with a crack team that they put together) begin a dangerous desert odyssey, they find that the hunter can very easily become the hunted.

While the excitements of a thriller narrative are well to the fore here (and handled with the panache that is Robert Ryan’s stock in trade), the author is well aware that a novel such as this must contain acute character analysis of such a complex figure as Lawrence -- and in that area, Ryan acquits himself with quite as much skill as he does in the more pulse-racing episodes of the novel. Empire of Sand has the reader wondering what other historical figures Ryan could bring this intriguing approach to. --Barry Forshaw

Book Description

A magnificently realised novel that recreates the extraordinary life of Lawrence of Arabia


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 15 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We read this for book club and its overall score was around 7/10 from a diverse group of people. In general it was agreed that it was a fascinating subject that could have been a really epic and engrossing book, but instead became a holiday read due to the light way in which the characters were fleshed out and the landscapes were described.
It was also described by many as being a bit too Boys Own for female readers, and a bit overly unpleasant in places in a way that wasn't really necessary to the development of the story.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By John Richard VINE VOICE on 14 April 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lawrence of Arabia. One of those historical figures that everyone has heard of, but who was he, what was he like, what motivated him, and most importantly, how did he earn his epithet? There have been many books written about him and the times he lived through; Robert Ryan read them all, then constructed this semi-fictional account of the early life of T E Lawrence. Beautifully written and researched as we have come to expect from this master of his art. This all takes place during WW1 of course, 1915, and it is tragic to discover that the seeds of the conflicts we are currently embroiled in throughout the middle east were sown in these times despite wise counsel from those who understood the region, the ignorant but powerful will prevailed, creating the essentially tribal conflicts which continue to fester to the detriment of us all. Brilliant piece of work, a joy to read and be educated at the same time!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Huw Roberts on 8 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Robert Ryan is one of my favourite authors and I have read most of his books and thoroughly enjoyed them. And this one is also a great read, full of exciting action, and the atmosphere of the time is wonderfully drawn. But I couldn't really tell you what it was about if you asked me a few days after finishing it. Some hostages are taken and are got back (I think), there are a lot of camels and a Rolls Royce and theres a bit of whimsical characterisation in the middle. But it's a bit lacking in plot. Read it on the beach or on the tube - ideal. But it seems a bit more of an exercise in exciting writing than a fully finished novel.
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Format: Paperback
I've long thought that 'historical fiction' was a bit of a misnomer. After all, fiction by definition has to stop where real history begins. However, that doesn't mean that wrapping fiction around historical events or people can't lead to a decent story and that's what has happened here.

It is 1915 and with the First World War raging in Europe, events are also progressing in Africa and the Middle East. In Cairo, a British Intelligence Officer by the name of T. E. Lawrence has come to believe that the only way to beat the German supported Turks is for the Arab tribes to unite and revolt against them. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the opportunity or the influence to put his ideas into practice, as he is confined to a Map Room in Cairo.

On the German side, one of their field agents in Persia has taken a number of British people hostage in an attempt to reclaim some important possessions and information that has fallen into the hands of their enemies. Thanks to this agent's familiarity with some of the Persian tribal chiefs, previous rescue attempts have failed and the only thing that remains is for an exchange to be made.

This sounds like it could be a fairly standard war story, but what links it with fact is the character of T. E. Lawrence, who subsequently became better known as Lawrence of Arabia and whose actions are still reverberating around the Middle East today. The events that make up the story here, however, pre-date that period by a year or two and aren't quite as exciting as his life was later to become.

This means that the story here seems a little unevenly paced. Much of the early parts show what motivated Lawrence to become as involved in the Arab revolt as he did, but don't actually tell that part of the story.
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Format: Paperback
I've been reading (and enjoying) Robert Ryan's books since "Early One Morning", but I thought the last couple were starting to get a bit samey and disappointing.

"Empire of Sand" however sees him right back in form - perhaps because he's abandoned his usual 1940s territory to go back to the First World War and the life of T. E. Lawrence ("of Arabia").

This is fine page-turner stuff, and very cinematic - not in the sense of the sweeping Vistas of David Lean's iconic film, but more like an Indiana Jones movie if it were scripted by John Buchan or Erskine Childers. Set mainly in what is now Iraq, there are obviously parallels with recent history, and the rather odd personality of Lawrence is handled with some subtlety.

It's not perfect - there is at least one plot-twist that is so clichéd as to invoke groans (but no spoilers here, folks!) - but as an historical thriller it's up there among the best.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I had already read "The seven pillars of wisdom" so was unsure about reading a fiction based on Lawrence's time in the middle east. My father read it and recommended it to me so I downloaded it to my Kindle for holiday reading. I enjoyed the book and the author managed to weave an exiting story with historical fact in an engaging way that kept me turning the pages. The author managed to capture Lawrence's character in a way that did not clash with the Lawrence of the seven pillars.
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