At the start of Dietrich's superb historical thriller, his swashbuckling hero, American Ethan Gage, who's living in Paris during the waning days of the French Revolution and was once apprenticed to Benjamin Franklin, wins a curious Egyptian medallion in a card game. Soon after, he's set upon by thieves, chased by the police, attacked by bandits, befriended by Gypsies, saved by a British spy and then packed off to join Napoleon's army as it embarks on its ill-fated Egyptian campaign. There the story really heats up. Once in Egypt, Gage finds himself beset by evildoers bent on stealing the mysterious medallion. As in previous novels like Hadrian's Walland Scourge of God, Dietrich combines a likable hero surrounded by a cast of fascinating historical characters. Riveting battle scenes, scantily clad women, mathematical puzzles, mysteries of the pharaohs, reckless heroism, hairsbreadth escapes and undaunted courage add up to unbeatable adventure rivaling the exploits of George Macdonald Fraser's Harry Flashman. Readers will cheer as the indomitable Gage floats off in a runaway hot-air balloon, hard on the trail of his next exotic undertaking. Author tour. (Feb.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Dietrich is becoming a leader among historical novelists. While his earlier works were contemporary thrillers, his last two, the compelling Hadrian's Walland Scourge of God, took place in the Dark Ages. Oh, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Dietrich's latest book takes place during Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt. Amateur scientist Ethan Gage is an American living in Paris, enjoying the earthy excesses of the post-revolutionary city. After winning an ancient amulet in a card game, he is framed for a couple of messy murders by an obscure Masonic cult that wants the amulet. Ethan, raised as a frontiersman, manages to escape and join the large body of scientists accompanying Bonaparte's ultimately disastrous campaign in Egypt. There he encounters mystery, treachery, and religious enmities; fights in battles; and burrows under the Great Pyramid, all while finding love and solving the mystery of the amulet. This work is rousing, swashbuckling fun and proof that a good writer can make history not only interesting but an exhilarating romp. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/15/06.]
School Library Journal
Adult/High School - "What if people didn't have to die . . . ? For an individual . . . that would make him master of all other men. For armies, it would mean indestructibility." Dietrich takes an actual event, Napoleon's 1798 invasion of Egypt; creates an amiable protagonist in the person of American gambler/adventurer Ethan Gage; hatches a plot focused on the enduring mystery of the Egyptian pyramids; and scores with a kinetic tale that expertly combines entertainment with intelligence. Augmenting his poor pay with his luck at cards, Gage acquires an ancient gold medallion one Parisian evening. Intrigued by its indecipherable etchings, perforations, and "two long arms," and suspicious of the interest expressed by Count Silano, a French-Italian aristocrat rumored to participate in the black arts, Gage keeps the artifact. This act unwittingly sets him on a perilous quest from Paris to the Egyptian desert, encountering Gypsies, Freemasons, spies, assassins, Bonaparte, land and sea battles, treachery, and love along the way. The final climactic scene within the Grand Pyramid of Giza is not to be missed, and the ending promises that Gage's adventures will continue. The Da Vinci Codecomparisons may seem automatic, but similarities go only as far as seeking the solution to a historical puzzle. Dietrich's work is more cerebral while sacrificing neither suspense nor action; think Indiana Jones meets the Discovery Channel. Fans of historical fiction, action adventure, and thrillers will clamor for this one.-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VACopyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Forget the mummies-there's a really big-time secret under wraps in Egypt's pyramids. And whatever it is, Napoleon wants to unravel it. Actually, everybody does, but American ex-pat Ethan Gage has the best shot. Ethan's got the MacGuffin (in this case, a centuries-old gold medallion associated with the pyramids), which he won at cards. The year is 1798, the scene Paris, a place of revelry, licentiousness and maybe a little post-guillotine angst. Young Ethan is at loose-an apt word-ends, having completed service as a sort of right-hand man to Ben Franklin, gone home now to take his place among the Founding Fathers. Suddenly, thanks to his prize, the heretofore aimless if amiable Ethan is imbued with renewed energy, committed to a mission that will change his life. He must beat a path to the pyramids, tracking the medallion in the hope of unlocking secrets that will enable him to understand: (1) what it is that makes it so fatally irresistible (2) why so many insist that the answer lies in the realm of the mystical-that whoever breaks its code achieves a unique and awesome power as the result. Certainly, Napoleon is a believer, a fact that paves the way for Ethan to be on hand when the ferocious Corsican invades Egypt. As it happens, he is also on hand when the ferocious Corsican confronts Lord Nelson, a plot development that will give some readers pause. In the end-after a quest full of fierce fights, narrow escapes, betrayals by friends and enemies, a love gained and lost-the medallion's message turns out to be . . . Sphinx-like. Dietrich (The Scourge of God, 2005, etc.) is never less than authoritative, but when a storyteller's setting is more interesting than his characters, his novel'sin trouble.
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By William Dietrich
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2007 William Dietrich
All right reserved.
It was luck at cards that started the trouble, and enlistment in mad invasion that seemed the way out of it. I won a trinket and almost lost my life, so take lesson. Gambling is a vice.
It's also seductive, social, and as natural, I would argue, as breathing. Isn't birth itself a roll of the dice, fortune casting one babe as peasant and another as king? In the wake of the French Revolution the stakes have simply been raised, with ambitious lawyers ruling as temporary dictators and poor King Louis losing his head. During the Reign of Terror the specter of the guillotine made existence itself a matter of chance. Then, with the death of Robespierre came an insanity of relief, giddy couples dancing on the tombs of St.-Sulpice Cemetery to a new German step called the waltz. Now, four years later, the nation has settled into war, corruption, and the pursuit of pleasure. Drabness has given way to brilliant uniform, modesty to décolletage, and looted mansions are being reoccupied as intellectual salons and chambers of seduction. If nobility is still an offense, revolutionary wealth is creating a new aristocracy. There's a clique of self-proclaimed "wonderful women" who parade Paris to boast of their "insolent luxury amid public wretchedness." There are balls that mock the guillotine, where ladies wear red ribbons at their throat. The citycounts four thousand gambling houses, some so plain that patrons carry in their own folding stools, and others so opulent that hors d'oeuvre are served on sacramental plate and the privy is indoors. My American correspondents find both practices equally scandalous. The dice and cards fly: creps, trente-et-un, pharaon, biribi. Meanwhile armies tramp on France's borders, inflation is ruinous, and weeds grow in the deserted courtyards of Versailles. So to risk a purse in pursuit of a nine in chemin de fer seemed as natural and foolish as life itself. How was I to know that betting would bring me to Bonaparte?
Had I been inclined to superstition, I might have made note that the date, April 13, 1798, was a Friday. But it was springtime in revolutionary Paris, meaning that under the Directory's new calendar it was the twenty-fourth day of the month of Germinal in the Year Six, and the next day of rest was still six days distant, not two.
Has any reform been more futile? The government's arrogant discard of Christianity means that weeks have been extended to ten days instead of seven. The revision's intent is to supplant the papal calendar with a uniform alternative of twelve months of thirty days each, based on the system of ancient Egypt. Bibles themselves were torn up to make paper gun cartridges in the grim days of 1793, and now the biblical week has been guillotined, each month instead divided into three decades of ten days, with the year beginning at the autumn equinox and five to six holidays added to balance idealism with our solar orbit. Not content with regimenting the calendar, the government has introduced a new metric system for weight and measure. There are even proposals for a new clock of precisely 100,000 seconds each day. Reason, reason! And the result is that all of us, even I--amateur scientist, investigator of electricity, entrepreneur, sharpshooter, and democratic idealist--miss Sundays. The new calendar is the kind of logical idea imposed by clever people that completely ignores habit, emotion, and human nature and thus forecasts the Revolution's doom. Do I sound prescient? To be honest, I wasn't used to thinking about popular opinion in such a calculating manner yet. Napoleon would teach me that.
No, my thought was focused on counting the turn of cards. Had I been a man of nature I might have left the salons to enjoy the year's first blush of red bud and green leaf, perhaps contemplating the damsels of the Tuileries Garden, or at least the whores of the Bois de Boulogne. But I'd chosen the card cozies of Paris, that glorious and grimy city of perfume and pollution, monument and mud. My spring was candlelight, my flowers courtesans of such precariously suspended cleavage that their twin advertisements teetered on the brink of escape, and my companions a new democracy of politician and soldier, displaced nobleman and newly rich shopkeeper: citizens all. I, Ethan Gage, was the salon's American representative of frontier democracy. I had minor status thanks to my earlier apprenticeship to the late, great Benjamin Franklin. He'd taught me enough about electricity to let me amuse gatherings by cranking a cylinder to impart a frictional charge to the hands of the prettier ones and then daring the men to try a literally shocking kiss. I had minor fame from shooting exhibitions that demonstrated the accuracy of the American longrifle: I had put six balls through a pewter plate at two hundred paces, and with luck had cut the plume from a skeptical general's hat at fifty. I had minor income from trying to forge contracts between war-pressed France and my own infant and neutral nation, a task made damnably difficult by the revolutionary habit of seizing American ships. What I didn't have was much purpose beyond the amusement of daily existence: I was one of those amiably drifting single men who wait for the future to start. Nor did I have income enough to comfortably support myself in inflationary Paris. So I tried to augment it with luck.
Our host was the deliberately mysterious Madame d'Liberté, one of those enterprising women of beauty and ambition who had emerged from revolutionary anarchy to dazzle with wit and will. Who had known females could be so ambitious, so clever, so alluring? She gave orders like a sergeant major, and yet had seized on the new fad for classical gowns to advertise her feminine charms with fabric so diaphanous that the discerning could detect the dark triangle pointing to her temple of Venus. Nipples peeped over the top of . . .
Excerpted from Napoleon's Pyramids by William Dietrich Copyright © 2007 by William Dietrich. Excerpted by permission.
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