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"Destiny's War Part 1: Saladin's Secret" by Pyram King

Posted by Matt McAvoy on Saturday, November 2, 2019 Under: Book Reviews

I love reading about turn of the 20th century British military camaraderie – the stiff upper lip and “golden age of cricket”, and Pyram King’s language in this respect is a delight.  It feels authentic and quintessentially English.  This short book – the first in a series – is adapted fiction from the real diaries of Francis Marion Jäger, an American journalist sent to Syria in World War One, to join the British forces fighting against the Turks and Arab mercenaries of the Ottoman Empire, to report for an English newspaper.  Seemingly the person with the most local knowledge there, he writes beautifully (as Marion) about the soldiers and officers making the best of things in a strange, formidable environment, with all their cultural and colonial ignorances, whilst none of them seem really sure who or what they are fighting for.  Readers should be warned, though: this is part of a series, and does require commitment to its upcoming sequel – this should be borne in mind before picking it up.

There are two halves to this book.  For the most part, it is a dialogue-led account, chronicling the day-to-day of the bewildered, yet arrogant British soldiers – there are more than slight shades of Journey’s End about it (the play, not the film), and hints toward Lawrence of Arabia, which is clearly a great influence.  Midway, however, the book changes tone somewhat, as the Brits are brought sharply down to earth by a brutally violent melee, hitting home the reality of war, particularly against such a misunderstood foe.  The mythical story of Saladin’s dagger takes a while to emerge and doesn’t really manifest; the theme of this book is more predominantly an educated historical reference to the ways of the Bedouins and the region; the foil of which is the blissful ignorance of their British opponents.  There is an immense amount of resource referencing throughout the book, and an entire section devoted to it in the book’s last quarter.  The author deserves huge credit purely for the work he has put into this – so much so, that the storyline is rendered somewhat instrumental - giving superb credibility and testimony to the book’s non-fiction aspect.

King is a superb author, his eloquence, research and cultural understanding shining through every line, word and paragraph of this wonderful book.  As well as displaying his excellent qualities, Destiny’s War contains some beautiful charcoal drawings, taken from Marion’s very own original diary.  As a whole, this book is well crafted and exceptionally presented; it is undoubtedly a piece of work of the highest quality, by a professional author with hugely impressive credentials, and I do recommend it highly – particularly for those with an interest in history and the Ottoman conflict of the first world war.  I look forward to the second instalment with great interest.


In : Book Reviews 


Tags: pyram-king  arabs  middle-east  war  first-world-war  british-empire 
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