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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His latest masterpiece
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...
Published on 14 April 2008 by John Richard

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but could have been a real epic
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.
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Published on 15 Nov. 2009 by Amazon Customer


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but could have been a real epic, 15 Nov. 2009
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This review is from: Empire of Sand (Paperback)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars His latest masterpiece, 14 April 2008
By 
John Richard "camban99" (Hull, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Empire of Sand (Hardcover)
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
3.0 out of 5 stars Rip Roaring story - I think!, 8 Feb. 2009
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Huw Roberts (Cardiff, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Empire of Sand (Paperback)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars The Empire Strikes Back, 10 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Empire of Sand (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. Whilst the motivation is quite interesting, because the story stops before the events it eventually led up to, it seems a little disjointed. The story here does eventually lead Lawrence into the desert on an active mission, but it takes so long getting there that by the time is does, it's been a bit of a struggle and the excitement of the last part of the adventure doesn't quite make up for it.

It's possible that in my ignorance of the details of the war in the Middle East, I have missed something important in the early parts of the story. I can certainly see how events would have motivated Lawrence to become who he did, but as someone without the knowledge of the history and who was reading this purely as an adventure story, the early pace felt a little slow to me. I did very much enjoy the latter parts, as the setting and the writing reminded me of Desmond Bagley's Flyaway, which I read many years ago.

It was this reminder that allowed me to relax and enjoy the story to its fullest towards the end. I have been a great fan of Bagley's work for many years and the reminder of his style enabled me to mostly put all the posturing and preparation behind me and settle into the story. Ryan's writing style mixes fact in with fiction in a way that with my inexperience I wasn't able to tell which might have been which and let me forget that this was based in part on true events. The more experienced historian may be able to see the joins and this may reduce their enjoyment of the book, but for me Lawrence seemed like a decent action hero and that was enough for me.

Perhaps the main let downs for me were the epilogue and the prologue. These sections took events two years into the future and allowed for the story to be told almost in flashback. Whilst the stylistic device was slightly unnecessary, the main issue was that the life Lawrence was living at that point was actually more exciting than the one he was living at the time of the story. Whilst I was able to forget this in between the two parts, the epilogue reminded me of it again and left me wondering why Ryan didn't tell the 1917 story instead of the 1915 one. That said, Ryan himself has since commented that the 1917 period of Lawrence's life has been so well told by others that he had no wish to repeat it and less scope in which to work.

This certainly isn't a history book, as I'm sure many of the events here are the result of imagination and not research. Besides, history never really interested me all that much at school and this managed to hold my interest pretty well. I'm not going to try and guess what a historian may make of this book, but I suspect that if a Tom Clancy fan ever wondered what war would be like eight decades before Jack Ryan ever came across the concept, this would be the ideal answer.

This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ryan back on form, 21 Nov. 2008
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This review is from: Empire of Sand (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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4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and engaging, 4 July 2012
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This review is from: Empire of Sand (Kindle Edition)
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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3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat lacking, 16 Feb. 2009
This review is from: Empire of Sand (Paperback)
The prologue is possibly the best I have read for some considerable time, straight away Lawrence is brought to life, and instantly you get a sense of what this man was like, brilliant. Sadly I found part one of the story to be really slow, hardly the page turner I had been hoping for. Fear not though in part two the pace picks up and the momentum doesn't stop until the very end, had the whole book been like this I would have given 4 maybe 5 stars.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as his other works - but OK. Beach book?, 11 May 2013
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Loved Signal Red - couldn't put it down. Death on the Ice is a good read. This should have been an inspirational read. TEL was such an anomaly. A unique personality, with great strengths and weakness who seemingly had the most wonderful freedom to truly adventure within his remit. Unfortunately these facets don't come out in the book. The story gives you an insight into the times but seemingly ticks over without grabbing.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not gripping, 21 April 2014
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This review is from: Empire of Sand (Kindle Edition)
I really rate Robert Ryan as an author having read at least 6 other books by him. This one is good but not in the same way as say Early One Morning or Blue Noon. Whilst the story about Laurence is pretty well known I just found that there are long periods in the book where things just don't seem to move and personally I struggled to keep from dropping off. Not one of Ryan's best works in my opinion.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rip-Roaring Ryan, 30 May 2008
This review is from: Empire of Sand (Hardcover)
Chances are, if you are of a certain age, as soon as you see the name "Lawrence of Arabia" or "T.E. Lawrence", you would immediately associate it with David Lean's magnificent film; or of Peter O'Toole who immortalised him or even of Maurice Jarre's magnificent score. So think how Robert Ryan had a big fight on his hands to create something "new" on this enigmatic character.

How does he do it? Well for a start, he doesn't cover the same period as Lean's film, the book moves from 1917 in Palestine and the Arab Revolt, back to 1915 Cairo, and Persia then forward again to Palestine. If you want, it's a prequel to the movie. Naturally our hero needs an enemy and we are introduced to a lesser known figure or William Wassmuss, a German soldier siding with the Persian tribes to oust the Brits from the country. And the see-sawing between Lawrence and Wassmuss as they circle each other like two desert scorpions; tails up and ready to strike the first blow is nothing but fun.

Whether it's the book's historical connection or the action sequences that interests you, it is filled with plot twists, and a couple of nods to classic films (let's see if you can spot them). The description of the harsh majesty of the desert is so palpable that you can practically feel the sun burning the back of your neck and the wind wiping around your ears. Robert Ryan has a real talent for creating historical atmosphere and Empire of Sand is a wonderful story because it plays at different levels beyond the action. Despite the fact that Lawrence is considered one of England's greatest heroes, Ryan's approach gradually breaks down this illusion and gives him a lonely nobility which makes us feel something for the man rather than the legend.
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Empire of Sand
Empire of Sand by Robert Ryan (Paperback - 2 Oct. 2008)
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