Normally, I try to avoid political thrillers, but I make an exception for stories on wartime exploits. Empire of Sand follows Thomas Edward Lawrence, a British intelligence officer, A.K.A Lawrence of Arabia, and Harold Quinn, a British agent. Lawrence and Quinn are tasked with stopping Wilhelm Wassmuss, the infamous German agent, from fuelling a conflict in Egypt that could lead to a revolt.
Without spoilers, here’s my review on Empire of Sand by Robert Ryan.
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The Plot Overview
The plot is filled with many chipper moments culled by the reality of war. Conflict on this scale and in this manner is understandably horrific. There were many short, sharp scenes that had my heartbeat spike at the thought. Despite their brevity, their impact set the scene and established the tense political atmosphere.
With its many ups and downs, the story keeps you wondering what will happen next. After all, it’s usually in the quiet moments, when everything seems to be going up, that you are immediately brought back down to earth. Something I truly admire in stories such as these.
While it seems like a steady decline in the first half, as the antagonists have the upper hand, the second half establishes hope and excitement with the introduction of Quinn, the British agent who works side-by-side with Lawrence.
As for my thoughts on the story as a whole, I found it more than worthy of the first read and deserving of a second read in the future. It’s one of the feelings I wish I had about every book I read, but it’s rare that I do. The story kept me invested, kept me guessing and always splendidly surprised with what happened next.
It’s grim, but a satisfying story that any reader interested in wartime adventures can enjoy.
The Character Overviews
The story does an excellent job of making the characters believable and compelling. From the bad to the good, Robert Ryan does an excellent job of making you feel the right emotions. No character is so plain and uninteresting, each has their shining traits which help them stand out and their faults which make them human.
Now, I won’t mention other characters aside from Lawrence, Quinn and Wassmuss, as they are the real focus of the story. Lawrence and Quinn are human characters in times of war. Cool and calm at the best of times, but even they are ruled by their emotions when cruel times present themselves.
After all, people aren’t so simple.
Lawrence, being the most present, quickly wins favour over Quinn, but of course, he does. Before Quinn enters the story, Lawrence demonstrates himself as intelligent, likeable and heroic. Despite not being at the front lines, Lawrence and those around him are in constant danger.
Personally, I have only heard of Lawrence of Arabia. I have not watched the movie or read any books concerning him. Despite that, I knew that he was a good man doing good things, so I did have some expectations that needed to be met. Lawrence more than met these expectations, proving to be an astounding protagonist to follow.
As for Quinn, his character is more cold and conflicted. He battles with himself as much as he battled with the enemy. A character that is prone to anger and frustration, but pushes it aside when a job needs to be done. For that reason, Quinn is enjoyable to read and necessary addition to the story.
With Lawrence being the brilliant mind and tactician, Quinn is the cool agent pulling the trigger.
As for Wassmuss, a truly ominous character from the very first mention of his name. He is intelligent, fierce and cold. The perfect antagonist for this kind of story. Robert Ryan does an excellent job of keeping the character out of sight in the first part unless it’s necessary for him to be there. It added to the mystery surrounding him, which is essential for both his character and the plot.
He becomes more present in the second half, but I won’t say much more than that. He proves himself to be a true adversary, that much I can say.
The Writing Overview
The writing style is one I enjoy. Simple descriptions, no fluff. It’s not too often I read a story set in such times that isn’t padded. While Robert Ryan certainty throws wartime facts around, which most are lost on me, he ensures it doesn’t drag on or bring the story down.
In addition to saving time and paper, the style keeps the reader focused on important characters and information. It keeps the reader present, feeling the suspense or the light moments that dot the book. At no point do you feel disconnected; you are there feeling anxiety in the dark moments or elation in the bright moments.
Chapters are short, making for faster pacing and an easier read, as the focus shifts between characters, especially in the first part. I prefer this structure, as switching between characters throughout a single chapter can make for a dense read.
I didn’t know what to expect getting into Empire of Sand. At first, I thought I would be treated to something less realistic and more light-hearted. The introduction gave this impression, so to much surprise, I was given my first dose of reality.
Quickly adjusting, I found myself enjoying the dark nature. Characters experience loss and terror on several occasions. As for gunfights, they few and far between. It’s not a story of action, but of cunning in Cairo. It made the moments when good triumphed over evil all that more satisfying and enjoyable.
It’s a careful balance that Robert Ryan maintains.
Finally, it is not a story for the faint of heart, but neither is war. There will be scenes that I won’t forget too quickly, which is a tribute to Ryan’s writing. I enjoyed the book immensely and even now when writing a review as a writer, I struggle to find any negatives.
On that note, thank you for reading my short, simple review and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy reading!