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Perhaps it would be easiest to just back up a truck full of adjectives and dump them all out.  It's a thrilling swashbuckler, a gripping tale of betrayal and vengeance, a rip snorting desert adventure, a throwback to the sweeping historical epics of Dumas...  There's love, lust, war, sex, pederasty, blood, guts, betrayals, heroism, sadism, cannibalism, Francophobia, homophobia, anti-Catholicism, anti-Islamicism...  There are emperors and slaves, dukes and beggars, nuns and whores, camels and goats...  It will remind you of Beau Geste, of The Four Feathers, of The Count of Monte Cristo...  And so on and so forth.

It really is a terrific old-fashioned novel and, for the most part, they don't write them like this anymore.  The story ranges from the Paris of the Franco-Prussian War to the Sahara Desert and back.  The plot is driven by all those great vices like greed and envy, back-stabbing and revenge, and romantic jealousy and racial hatred.  At the heart of the story are two cousins of the noble deVries family : Moussa, son of a French Count and a Tuareg tribeswoman whom he met on an expedition to the Sahara; and Paul, son of a brave but obtuse colonel in the Imperial Guard and a scheming, over-ambitious mother.  Moussa and his mother, Serena, run afoul of several French clerics, eventually leading to a killing, which forces them to flee Paris by balloon.  Meanwhile, Paul's father is framed for war crimes, then disappears shortly after a trial in which he is cleared only because his wife fixes the verdict.

The action then shifts forward in time ten years and to the Sahara, where Moussa has had trouble fitting in with his fellow Tuaregs, particularly his cousin on his Mother's side, Mahdi.  Paul, on the other hand, has made it to Africa as part of the Flatters expedition, an ill-fated enterprise which sought to find a route for a Trans-Saharan railway.  When Flatters insists on a course that will bring them directly through the region controlled by the Tuaregs, Paul and Moussa, each unaware of the other's presence on the scene, find themselves on opposite sides of what soon turns into a brutal slaughter, led by Mahdi.

Moussa resists the worst excesses of his cousin, which, combined with their mutual attraction to a young tribeswoman, earns him Mahdi's undying enmity.  Paul, though he survives the Flatters fiasco, develops a nearly insane hatred of the Tuaregs, a hatred which he manages to indulge by leading French forces in reprisal raids.  The fates continue to throw these young men together and set them against one another, however improbably, for nearly eight hundred action-packed pages.

You'll love every page.  If only David Lean or George Stevens were around to make a movie version…


Grade: (A)


See also:

Historical Fiction
Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOK SITE : Empires of Sand
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Empires of Sand
    -REVIEW : of Empires of Sand ( Harry Kelleher, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW : of Empires of Sand (RON FRANSCELL, The Oregonian)
    -REVIEW : of Empires of Sand (GABRIELLE MATHIEU, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Empires of Sand (Woody Arbunkle, Wag)
    -REVIEW : of Empires of Sand (Jonathan Shipley, Book Browser)

    -Tuareg Information (Art & Life in Africa)
    -ARCHIVES : Tuareg (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : sahara (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : louis napoleon (Find Articles)
    -Saharan Exploration : A potted history of Saharan knowledge gathering and exploration through the centuries.
    -ESSAY : The Flatters Expedition, 1880 (Hans Von Stockhausen)
    -FLATTERS (Paul) [ Laval, 16 septembre 1832 / Bir el-Garama, 16 février 1881 ]
    -ESSAY : Vicariate Apostolic of Sahara  (Catholic Encyclopaedia)
    -REVIEW : of South from Barbary: Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara by Justin Marozzi (Mark Sanderson, booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of The Pale Abyssinian: A Life of James Bruce, African Explorer and Adventurer by Miles Bredin  (Dan Jacobson, booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of The Pale Abyssinian: a Life of James Bruce, African Explorer and Adventurer by Miles Bredin (W. F. Deedes,  booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of Grains of Sand by Martin Buckley ( Leo Colston, booksonline)