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Empires of Sand by David Ball

Empires of Sand (1999)

by David Ball

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Showing 5 of 5
I'd never heard of this author, but one of his books was recommended by George R.R. Martin on his website (http://georgerrmartin.com/reading.html) - so I picked this one up.
It's actually NOT the book that Martin read (that was Ironfire, about the Knights of Malta), but I think he'd like this one as well. What an enjoyable book! Ostensibly, this is an historical novel, based on a true incident – a failed 19th-century French expedition to suss out the possibilities of building a trans-Saharan railroad. However, the book has only a marginally less tenuous connection to reality than, say, George R.R. Martin's books. (still reading A Feast For Crows, btw) Empires of Sand is first and foremost a grand adventure-drama, and if historical reality falls a bit by the wayside – who's missing it?
The book focuses on the relationship between Paul DeVries and his half-French, half Tuareg nomad cousin, Moussa. The first half of the book takes place against the backdrop of Paris during the French Revolution, and establishes their relationship as boys. The second half of the book is set in the Sahara. Paul is now an officer in the French army, but Moussa has gone back to the desert and reclaimed his Tuareg heritage... they must meet again, this time on different sides in a terrible conflict.
Along the way, there's plenty of violence, passion, daring escapes, rape, enslavement, cannibalism, miserable deaths, betrayals, revenge... all that good stuff! And plenty of it... it's 770 pages long. It's got enough manly/military type action to satify fans of that kind of thing (Bernard Cornwell, perhaps?) – but also strong female characters and enough romance for those more into the soap-opera dramatic epic kinda thing (Melanie Rawn?). A good balance. The historical background is richly panoramic, but the story itself is always about the personal relationships between the characters, which is something I personally like in this kind of epic fiction... Definitely recommended! ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
This is one of those rare escapist treasures that you pick up expecting to be good, not great, but find yourself thoroughly enjoying. The plot, characters and seamlessly interwoven historical research all combine into an adventure story reminiscent of Dumas or Kipling. There is love and lust enough to keep the story interesting, but not so overwrought and overdone as to turn it into a gratuitous bodice-ripper. I fully intend to seek more of this author's works out. ( )
  Shutzie27 | Jan 26, 2014 |
After reading Ironfire, I searched this book out and certainly was not disappointed. Great characters, interesting plot, and fascinating settings. I've never been to the Sahara (or Paris for that matter); however, I could almost feel the sand blow. Ball is a great storyteller. The only fault I can find is the ending is just a bit too easily tied up; however, I would have been so disappointed in anything less because it seems I invested so much in all the characters. Check out the website: [...]

Reread: 5-2016: Read this after reading "Bad-ass Librarians.." because of the Tuareg peoples. Probably would have given it a 4 star after second reading. A bit wordy in places especially with descriptions and there were too many coincidences. Still good characters: Paul, the Frenchman, and Moussa, Paul's half-French and half-Tuareg cousin. Paul's mother, Elisabeth is a bit over the top of malice and Moussa's Tuareg mother, Serena, a bit too good. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 16, 2013 |
Not my typical style of reading, but it was recommended to me. I'm glad it was. Two cousins, two cultures... Bonds of family nutured in Paris tested against bittle conflicts in the Saharan sand.
I enjoyed the glimpse into a culture I knew nothing about. ( )
  jegka | Oct 3, 2011 |
Enjoyed this novel contrasting France and north Africa in 1880s. ( )
  tearley | Sep 28, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440236681, Mass Market Paperback)

What a find! David Ball's first novel packs the wallop of a good old-fashioned adventure movie, with historic sweep to please any James Michener fan. The action starts with a wounded wild boar's attack on two French boys (convincingly told from the points of view of the boar, the boys--Paul and Moussa--the terrified mom, and an evil bishop who watches and prevents his coachman from shooting the beast). The pace never slackens as the scenes flash past: invasion and class war in the streets and underground quarryways of Paris during the 1870 siege, moonlit sneak attacks in the desert the Arabs call "the Land of Thirst and Fear," and an epic French attempt to drive a railroad through the Sahara--a mad plan opposed by the dunes and their no less implacable inhabitants, the Tuareg.

The Tuareg are the coolest--they're known as the blue men because they wear head-to-toe wraparound indigo-dyed clothes that scarily obscure their faces and stain their skin. Their rivals call them blue devils, and they have lots of rivals. Even though their dads are brothers, the French boys are fated to fight as tribal rivals in Saharan nomad's land because Moussa has a Tuareg mother. His dad, Count Henri deVries, crash-landed his balloon at her feet, and she followed him back to Paris. Racial oppression and bad bishop behavior provoke justifiable homicide at the Paris Opera, occasioning a hairsbreadth balloon escape and southern adventures too numerous to enumerate here. The prose is purple but handsome, the plot pulpy and propulsive. Check out these sentences: "He fell to her from the sky"; "Bashaga's howl haunted them until it was swallowed by the wind"; "As Moussa's stabbing knife pushed up through to his brain, Abdul ben Henna's last thoughts were of revenge." If these make you burn to read on, read on! You won't be disappointed. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:21 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A French balloonist crashes in the Sahara and returns to France with a Tuareg princess for a wife. They have a son, Moussa, who spends his childhood playing with Paul, his cousin. As men, the cousins meet on the battlefield in the desert, Moussa defending the Tuaregs from the invading French.… (more)

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