Saturday, May 25, 2013
Book Review: THE BARBED CROWN
HARPERCOLLINS – @HarperCollins
AUTHOR: William Dietrich
ISBN: 978-0-06-219407-7; hardcover (May 7, 2013)
368pp, B&W, $26.99 U.S.
William Dietrich is a novelist and non-fiction author. Before he was a novelist, Dietrich was a journalist. In 1990, along with reporters Ross Anderson, Mary Ann Gwinn, and Eric Nalder, Dietrich won the “Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting” at The Seattle Times “for coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and its aftermath.” As an author, Dietrich is known for a series of novels, “the Ethan Gage Adventures,” which began with Napoleon's Pyramids (2007).
Dietrich’s latest is The Barbed Crown, a recently released adventure novel. The Barbed Crown is “An Ethan Gage Adventure,” the sixth novel in the series that stars spy, adventurer, and treasure hunter, Ethan Gage, and is set during the Napoleonic wars.
Gage had fought beside Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt and was Bonaparte’s agent in Italy. Now, Gage blames the ruler of France for the death of his wife, Astiza. Leaving his only son, four-year-old Horus (Harry), in England, Gage heads to France to join a royalist conspiracy trying to unseat Napoleon and restore the Bourbon monarchy to power.
Gage’s adventure includes a motley cast of characters. There is Comtesse Catherine Marceau, a royalist sympathizer, and the smuggler Tom Johnstone, who helps Gage and Marceau get to France. He meets inventors and technology pioneers, Robert Fulton and Sir William Congreave. And, of course, there is Napoleon Bonaparte himself. As Great Britain and France prepare for war, Gage finds himself caught between two empires, both determined to use him as a pawn, but he really just wants to save his life and his family.
In the “Historical Notes” at the back of The Barbed Crown, William Dietrich writes that “History is life: complex, confusing, and inclusive,” but he doesn’t let that stop him from turning history into a great romantic adventure in the vein of 19th century novels. In the same paragraph, Dietrich also writes of history, “Problems drag, personalities linger, careers meander, and love sometimes goes unconsummated.” Of course, a skilled writer can turn that into juicy storytelling, which Dietrich does.
Ethan Gage is an attractive character, not because he is so smart and resourceful; so many characters in fiction are too smart, perfect, and live mostly trouble-free lives. Gage is never trouble-free. If the world is a stormy sea, Gage’s life is small boat tossed about by relentless waves and choppy waters, and that’s a good thing. The sense of peril and danger and the significance of the conflict are heightened, so we come to believe of Gage that “this dude ain’t gonna make it!” His troubles made me hold onto the likeable Gage even harder.
The Barbed Crown deserves to be described as “a good read,” because it is a darn good read. It is filled with colorful characters, is set in a Paris that is both glittery and squalid, and there is always a backroom, corner, or hideaway where people are hatching conspiracies. The epic confrontation on the high seas that dominates the last act is like a second novel added onto the adventures in Paris. With its surprising ending, The Barbed Crown will have you anticipating the seventh entry in the Ethan Gage series.
Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux