Book review: ‘Blood Red Sand’ by Damien Larkin

Genre: Alternative/future history

Description: This novel is set in the same milieu as Larkin’s debut novel Big Red which came out in 2019. I have not read that book, but felt very little adrift not knowing its content. Blood Red Sand stands satisfactorily alone. Apparently Blood Red Sand is a prequel, so if you enjoy this you can move onwards (or backwards) to Big Red.

The premise is entirely military, and definitely ‘out there’. There are space ships and habitat domes. There are Panzers and Bren guns. It’s that sort of mashup. Bit of a Boy’s Own, then. Perhaps worth mentioning that the few women in the book are well drawn and hold their own with the men in the plot line, and the violence they are capable of.

Author: Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction author and co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community. He lives in Dublin. His first novel Big Red was longlisted for the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel.

Appraisal: The last time I played video games was SSX on the PS2. Out of touch much? C’est moi. I am absolutely not this book’s target market, yet I enjoyed it a lot. It is well written. Characters are well drawn and shown to the reader through their actions – of which there is masses. The plot is one long battle, with well-explained skirmishes. The pages turn briskly, and a couple of interesting surprises are set up to provide a frisson when one is, perhaps, getting slightly tired of the blood-letting later on. There is just enough humour to leaven the blood and gore. The body count is enormous: it began to puzzle me from about half way where all the reinforcements could possibly be coming from. It does not do to question that sort of thing, nor the motives and morals of anybody in the book, too closely. But the baddies (Nazis) are definitely worse than the goodies (Allies).

This book is very much for gamers. Especially those who play first-person shooters. And who watch films about Nazism continuing after WWII, eg Iron Sky, in which the defeated Nazis repair to the Moon, with a view to building a space fleet to conquer the Earth. In this case (the clue is in the title) the Nazis have made their way to Mars in the early Fifties with a view to rebuilding the Reich and finally conquering the world (mwahahaha). Thither they have been pursued by the Mars Expeditionary Force (and others). The battle begins with space ships pounding away at each other but quickly the fighting becomes hand to hand.

Larkin is good at the strategy and tactics such a Force would employ, the kinds of weapons they might have available to them (plus a twist), and descriptions of the battle. He bangs on a bit about the weaponry (frequently name-checking it), and ditto about the bits of flesh that used to be people getting spattered about by shells, grenades etc. But hey, I guess that’s war. Don’t read this book when you’re eating is my advice.

Given the resurgence of fascism and anti-Semitism in our world it is no bad thing to be reminded how vile both political philosophies are. Although the Allies don’t come out of it smelling of roses either: their mantra is “kill them all”. Nor, I suspect, will all Jewish readers be entirely comfortable with the way they are portrayed.

It reminded me strongly of Starship Troopers without the bugs.  

I originally reviewed this book for Big Al & Pals for which purpose I received a complimentary soft copy.


Published by Judi Moore

Hi there, I hope you find something to interest you here. In December 2017 I published my fourth book – ‘Wonders will never cease’. It’s a satirical campus novel set in the fictional Ariel University in 1985. If you enjoyed Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse novels, Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’, David Lodge’s campus novels or Malcolm Bradbury’s ‘The History Man’ back in the day, you may enjoy revisiting the ivory towers of 1980s’ academe thirty years on. See what you think. “It is December, 1985. The year is winding gently towards its close until Fergus Girvan, a Classicist at Ariel University, finds his research has been stolen by the man who is also seeking to steal his daughter. But which man is, actually, the more unscrupulous of the two? And is there hope for either of them?” In the autumn of 2015 I published a volume of short fiction: 'Ice Cold Passion and other stories'. I am also the author of novella 'Little Mouse', a shortish piece of historical fiction which I published in 2014 and, a sequel to it, 'Is death really necessary?', my eco thriller set in the near future and which, confusingly, I published in 2009. All the books are available from all good online bookshops and FeedARead on paper, and as e-books on Kindle. On a semi-regular basis, and about a month after the event, I post here reviews which I do for Big Al & Pals, the premier reviewer of indie books, based in the States. My interests tend to thrillers, SF, magic realism and other quirky stuff. On this blog are also posted the reviews I did for Leighton Buzzard Music Club over some five years up to the end of 2015. LBMC present annual seasons of eight monthly chamber music concerts at the Library Theatre in Leighton Buzzard, Bucks. They select young musicians just beginning to make their name - and the concerts are usually magnificent. I was very proud to be associated with them. I review other music, books, theatre and exhibitions which I've particularly enjoyed. BTW - it says the link to Facebook is broken. I dispute that. Click it and see, why not?

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