I don't share most reviewers' enthusiasm for Percival Wren's book. The framework story unfolds at a painfully slow pace and the adventurous part of recruitment, training and life of the Geste brothers in the Foreign Legion is not broad enough.
Too bad, because the French Foreign Legion, shrouded in the myth of secrecy and adventure, fascinates many to this day (including myself) and deserves to be object of a more suspenseful novel. The Foreign Legion garrison heroically defending Fort Zinderneuf against the Arabic attacks is undoubtedly the most memorable image of Wren's story. It is at the heart of the adventure for which the book is famous and Wren deserves the credit for the idea. But he spends too much time on minor characters and inconsequential dialogue. The characters are awfully stereotypical (the cunning and deceitful Italians, the brutal and primitive Germans, the noble and chivalrous English, the lighthearted and naïve Americans and the greedy and egotistical French - oh brother).
Maybe many book reviewers are influenced by the great movie from 1939 (with Gary Cooper and Ray Milland). It is pretty true to the novel but focuses on the part of the story I was looking for and is well paced. In Wren's book, you have to read through more than 100 pages of turgid story telling before the Geste brothers even get to the Foreign Legion. Its longwinded explanations and speculations on the characters' motivation and the possible outcome of the inherent intrigues seem terribly old fashioned for the 21st century reader. This shortcoming of Wren's story telling ability diminishes the enjoyment of the book. Wren is no Alexandre Dumas who can write a novel of 1400 pages ("The Count of Monte Cristo") and still make it easy reading.