The Barbed Crown
William Dietrich’s sixth foray into the swashbuckling world of Ethan Gage easily lives up to his previous efforts. If you like your swordplay spiced with a dash of witty repartee, à la The Three Musketeers, then Gage is the hero for you. In this entry, Gage, a free-booting American who had sold his sword to Napoleon, sneaks back into France determined to take revenge on the French leader for kidnapping his son, Harry, and attempting to kill Gage’s wife, Astiza.
He and Astiza hatch a plot to ruin Napoleon’s coronation by switching the French crown with the Cross of Thorns, allegedly worn by Jesus Christ at the crucifixion. But when their plot is revealed, Astiza once more finds herself at Napoleon’s mercy, and Gage has made a run for it to England. By time the book is finished, Gage and the British have joined forces against the French to foil Napoleon’s ambitions, and Gage’s relationship with Napoleon becomes even more confused, as the American saves the Little Corporal from drowning. A varied cast of characters, including Robert Fulton, who invented the first practical submarine, adds color to the conspiracy-laden plot. All the threads come together at the Battle of Trafalgar, where Gage, of course, plays a key role.
The battles, plots and counterplots make this a delightful read, and the depiction of Napoleonic Paris is excellent. If you like historical thrillers set during the early American period, if you love a carefree rogue whose heart is in the right place, then you won’t be disappointed. Recommended.