Thursday, July 7, 2016

What if Nicolas Cage had actually known Benjamin Franklin?

Book Review of The Three Emperors (2014).

What if National Treasure's Benjamin Franklin Gates had really been a contemporary of Benjamin Franklin? That seems to be the inspiration for the Ethan Gage books series by William Dietrich. The series is set in the Napoleonic period, and it doesn't take long before Gage meets the little Emperor - General Bonaparte, he isn't the Emperor when Gage first meets him...but I am getting ahead of myself. 

While shelf browsing in my local library I happened upon the latest book in the Ethan Gage series. I'd never heard of the character or the author, but the blurb on The Three Emperors told me that the book included swashbuckling adventure, the castles and caves of Bohemia, and an evil dwarf alchemist who experiments with the occult on Prague’s Golden Lane. Now since the PCs in my H+I campaign are in pursuit of an alchemist who can change normal rats into some sort of ravenous hell rats the size of a dog, I thought 'Hey, might be some good ideas in here I can steal.' And there were. 

The book includes a lot of references to alchemists from Classical times through Medieval, Renaissance, and Early Modern up to the books setting of the Napoleonic Wars. By this time, Napoleon has ended the Republic and he is one of the three Emperors in the eponymous title. The references alone were worth the read to me and the evil dwarf is a nasty character I'd love to introduce some time to my H+I game. No moral ambiguity with that villain.

The book includes a museum break-in to Letohrádek Hvězda, the famous and weird Star Palace just outside of Prague.

The book gives a good description and the internet includes maps and more detail. Now I just need a reason to send the PCs off to Bohemia to steal some relic, magic item, or weird curiosity. The floor plan looks like something created for Middle Earth by Iron Crown Enterprises. Truth sometimes is a lot weirder than one might suppose.

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?

The plot is fast paced and action filled as National Treasure and as plausible as The Da Vinci Code. But it fulfilled my expectation for a mad alchemist, gave me some good alchemical trivia, and it makes Prague seem like a must see stop for any period piece that includes magic or alchemy.

I give it 3 our of 4 Stars.


I just started the first book in the series, Napoleon's Pyramids. I wonder if there will be a real un-live mummy?

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