Sunday, June 8, 2014


HARPERCOLLINS – @HarperCollins

AUTHOR: William Dietrich
ISBN: 978-0-06-219410-7; hardcover (May 6, 2014)
384pp, B&W, $25.99 U.S.

The Three Emperors is a 2014 adventure novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist turned novelist William Dietrich.  [1990: Ross Anderson, Bill Dietrich, Mary Ann Gwinn and Eric Nalder, The Seattle Times, “for coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and its aftermath.”]  The Three Emperors is “An Ethan Gage Adventure” and is the seventh book in a series that stars spy, adventurer, and treasure hunter, Ethan Gage.  Like 2013’s The Barbed Crown, The Three Emperors is set during the Napoleonic wars.

The Three Emperors opens in early November of 1805 just a few weeks after the Battle of Trafalgar, the October 1805 battle in which the British Royal Navy fought the combined fleet of the navies of France and Spain.  Adventurer Ethan Gage was an unwilling participant in the battle, but his quick wits helped him survive and escape.  Now, Gage has made his way to Venice, Italy where he hopes to use his gambling skills to earn the money he needs for the journey to find his family.

Before Trafalgar, Gage was separated from his wife, the “Egyptian priestess” Astiza, and his son, Horus (Harry, who is not quite five-years-old).  They are currently imprisoned by a ruthless mystic and an evil dwarf alchemist, who are forcing Astiza to try to change base metal into gold.  However, their ultimate prize is the automaton known as the Brazen Head.  Created by Albertus Magnus, spirited away by Christian Rosenkreutz, and reportedly destroyed by Thomas Aquinas, the Brazen Head is the mysterious medieval device rumored to foretell the future.

On his way to find his family and unaware of the depth of their plight, Gage finds himself once again accosted by Napoleon Bonaparte (Emperor Napoleon 1).  Before he knows it, Gage is a soldier in the Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors.  [The three emperors were Bonaparte, commander of the French army; Tsar Alexander 1, commander of the Russo-Austrian army; and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II].  There, Gage meets new and unlikely allies, Gideon Dray, a Jewish Napoleonic soldier, and his sutler father, Aaron Dray.

Possessing what is reputed to be a fragment of Durendal, the legendary sword of Roland, Gage stays just a little of ahead of his pursuers and plots to survive war.  Gage’s biggest test comes when he travels through the darkest and most superstitious realms of 18th century Eastern Europe, to rescue his family and to locate the Brazen Head.

In The Barbed Crown, author William Dietrich depicted Ethan Gage using both his skill sets as a spy and a treasure hunter to augment his skills as a diplomat.  At The Barbed Crown’s center was the story of the heist meant to upset Napoleon’s coronation; Dietrich placed this story in the context of the hunt for mystical objects, diplomacy, and war.

The Three Emperors is darker, mainly because Gage’s life seems in real peril.  Astiza and Harry also seem to be dangling over a precipice that leads to awful deaths.  At the same time, The Three Emperors has a quality that recalls the Indiana Jones movies, as Gage and Astiza and Harry – separately and together – race from one dangerous, exotic, and mysterious locale to another in search of the Brazen Head.

The chase and locales are what make The Three Emperors such an engaging read.  Dietrich colorful and vivid prose transports the readers, placing them side-by-side with Gage or Astiza and Harry.  Sometimes, I felt as if my neck were also on the line, as if I were in danger of becoming the main course for a hungry dwarf.  I probably prefer The Barbed Crown’s lighter moments, but I thoroughly enjoyed the perilous journey William Dietrich offers in The Three Emperors.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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