Adventurer Ethan Gage travels through the darkest and most superstitious realms of eighteenth century Europe, to the castles and caves of Bohemia to rescue his family and uncover a mysterious medieval device rumored to foretell the future.
Having quick-wittedly survived the battle of Trafalgar, Ethan is rushing to rescue “Egyptian priestess” Astiza and son Harry from imprisonment by a ruthless mystic who seeks revenge for disfigurement, and an evil dwarf alchemist who experiments with the occult on Prague’s Golden Lane.
Using death as his ruse, and a pair of unlikely allies—a Jewish Napoleonic soldier and his sutler father—Ethan must decipher clues from Durendal, the sword of Roland. Astiza uses her own research to concoct an explosive escape and find a lost tomb, their tormentors in relentless pursuit.
William Dietrich skillfully weaves intrigue and magic, romance and danger in a historical thriller that sprints from the fury of Napoleonic war to the mystic puzzles of Central Europe. What enigmas will the fabled Brazen Head finally reveal?
Dietrich's seventh Ethan Gage adventure (after 2013's The Barbed Crown) delivers more of the usual action-packed, at times implausible, intrigue with little character development. In November 1805, Gage, who describes himself as the "American sharpshooter, savant of electricity, treasure hunter, spy, diplomat, and mercenary," is believed dead after the Battle of Trafalgar. In fact, he's in Venice, posing as Hieronymus Franklin, a "distant cousin of Benjamin." Almost a year after last seeing his wife, Astiza, and their four-year-old son, Horus, Gage is understandably preoccupied with finding them, especially after learning that Astiza may be burned as a witch. The narrative switches perspectives between husband and wife; Astiza's sections detail her struggle to stay alive and to locate a "mechanical man, or android,'" built by 13th-century scholar Albertus Magnus and able to predict the future, which she could use as a bargaining chip. Gage's flippancy makes it hard to invest in the battle scenes, and the prose is sometimes labored (e.g., "As with all grand and venerable castles, the agglomeration of architecture at Cesk Krumov is haunted").
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The Three Emperors
The wisecracking Ethan Gage is at the top of his form here, with the exotic Astiza as counterpoint. A fun romp through momentous early-19th century European history, beautifully written and cleverly plotted, this is Mr. Dietrich's best book-- which is saying something, since he has written no bad ones and more than a few very good ones.