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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"The Barbary Pirates" by William Dietrich (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official William Dietrich Website
Order "The Barbary Pirates" HERE
Read FBC Review of Napoleon's Pyramids and The Rosetta Key
Read FBC Review of The Dakota Cipher (with bonus essay by the author)

The Barbary Pirates” by William Dietrich is the fourth historical thriller with a touch of the supernatural in what is proving to be a very successful series. It follows the adventures of one Ethan Gage, a rakish American adventurer with a talent for getting in and out of trouble as well as making powerful friends and enemies. Though part of a series, The Barbary Pirates is a standalone and can be read independently with all the needed back-story recounted by Ethan. For a more detailed overview of the series so far and its setting, the reviews linked above are a good place to start.

In my 2010 Anticipated Book Post I said the following:

"It's Ethan Gage, it's most likely an exciting adventure so a must. After Egypt, the Middle East, Paris and a dalliance with Napoleon' sister that made a trip back home advisable followed by an exploration of the American interior in search of Viking traces, Ethan is on to another adventure... Pyramids, masons, mysterious ancient manuscripts of power, but first and foremost page turning fun with lots of great cameos and a towering Napoleon. Loosely sfnal in content, the series is very sfnal in ethos."

And so it turned out!

"The Barbary Pirates" stands at 336 pages and is narrated by Ethan Gage, while we meet pretty much all the surviving main characters from the series so far (including Astiza and Aurora) and there are cameos of famous scientists and inventors as well as another superb rendering of Napoleon faking shooting at Josephine' swans, lecturing everyone around and asking "the brilliant imbecile" Gage to look into another supernatural mystery for him. The novel ends with an author's note that puts its events in context, note that is excellent and worth reading in itself. Standalone and with a great ending, "The Barbary Pirates" is picaresque adventure with a sfnal ethos at its best.

"Af­ter I trapped three sci­en­tists in a fire I set in a broth­el, en­list­ed them in the theft of a stam­ped­ing wag­on, got them ar­rest­ed by the French se­cret po­lice, and then mired them in a mys­tic mis­sion for Bona­parte, they be­gan to ques­tion my judg­ment."

When "The Barbary Pirates" was published at the end of March, I was trying to decide which of roughly eight asap books that had recently turned out on my doorstep or in my inbox I should read first. However I went to the bookstore on the day "The Barbary Pirates" was published to browse it and the opening line above made me get it then and read it immediately.

"The Barbary Pirates"
opens in the 1802
Paris of the Amiens Peace, glitter, tourism and Bonaparte as First Consul for life and just reopening the churches after ten years of the Revolution, while Ethan Gage is back from America trying to keep making a living by wheedling the "great men" rather than by "real work" as Napoleon puts it in another cutting jibe. This time Ethan is an unofficial ambassador from the new US president Thomas Jefferson and he is charged to convince Napoleon to sell the huge Louisiana territories to the young Republic rather than seeing it fall prey to the dastardly English; Napoleon still has an army nearby in Haiti fighting the ex-slaves so he demurs for now. But as fate has it, there is something else Ethan Gage can do that Bonaparte wants and as the opening line quoted above show, he has no real choice.

So with naturalist and Bonapartist minister Cuvier, Englishman geologist Smith and American inventor Fulton in tow and as a "guide to rough living and adventure", Gage is off to the famous volcanic island of Thira aka Santorini to chase rumors of Archimedes' famous "death ray mirror" while both the Egyptian Rite villains and the pirates of the title are in hot pursuit...

What follows
is the lightest and pulpiest novel of the series with mostly cardboard characters outside Ethan - and here is one the few regrets I had in the novel, namely that both the mysterious and independent Astiza and the beautiful but deadly Aurora are turned here in cliches, including having the nasty monster dog of the dominatrix in the second case - but the one liners, the zaniness and the non-stop action make "The Barbary Pirates" an ultra-fun read. There are jokes and jibes about almost everything under the sun, many of which are quite applicable in a contemporary setting and while there is a comic-book like artificiality in many of the adventures, the book is just impossible to put down.

While the other three novels had a Paris and Egypt/Middle East/USA location, here we move in quite a few places following the trail of the "super weapon" so we get a bit into Indiana Jones like territory too, though again it mostly works because it is fun and the book never takes itself too seriously. On the way, Ethan has to learn quite a few new things including "responsibility" - his musings on the subject are among the most touching parts of the book - and parenting skills (feed, keep entertained, help get to sleep!) all of course in-between thwarting the villains and "saving the world"...

An A for pure fun, I want more Ethan Gage!


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