The Emperor’s American

Written by Art McGrath
Review by Richard Bourgeois

Baltimore native Pierre Burns gets his hatred of the English from both sides – a French mother and a Jacobite father. Adding insult to heredity, a British frigate destroys Burns’ merchant ship at sea. He washes ashore near Boulogne and soon gets his chance for revenge – taken in by a Marshal of France and commissioned an officer in Napoleon’s Grand Armée.

There are several excellent series following the careers of young British officers through the Napoleonic wars: Hornblower, Sharpe, and the like. This reviewer has always wanted to see such a story told from the French side. Sadly, this book is not the one I was waiting for. Burns does indeed hate the English; in fact his sole motivation is to shoot and stab as many of them as possible. This is enough to put him in French uniform, at which point our protagonist might have found a nobler reason to fight. Instead Burns remains brutal and unsympathetic, more than once taking advantage of his fluent English to massacre unsuspecting Redcoats. Along the way we have the barest glimmer of a love interest, clumsily contrived to introduce an enemy in either Austrian or Russian service (one wonders if the author had decided yet) who will sustain Burns’ hatred until the historical record allows his unit to fight the British army. Despite myself I will probably read the next book in the series; the author knows his tactics, and I’ve never heard Austerlitz told from the vantage of the French light infantry.