A mysterious medallion decorated with Egyptian symbols, the murder of a prostitute, conspiracy, and Freemasonry- no, it’s not the latest Dan Brown thriller, but Napoleon's Pyramids by William Dietrich. Though it deals with some of the same topics as a book like The Da Vinci Code, including Freemasonry and conspiracies, it won’t ruffle as many feathers, because religion doesn’t play as major a part in Napoleon's Pyramids, except for an important connection with Moses of the Old Testament.
Napoleon's Pyramids is full of adventure, tracing the exploits of Ethan Gage, an apprentice to Benjamin Franklin. He is lucky in cards, winning a lot of money from the well-heeled of Paris, along with an Egyptian medallion. Little does he suspect at the time that the medallion carries a curse and is also an important key to unlocking secrets long hidden.
Raised in the backwoods of America, Gage;s longrifle and tomahawk are never far from his side. They will serve him well. After he spends the night with a courtesan, he returns to his rented flat only to see it’s been ransacked in an attempt to find the medallion, which he’d carefully though indelicately hidden in his chamber pot. Suspecting that the prostitute he spent the night with helped set him up, Gage goes to confront her but discovers her dead, and that she has scrawled the initial “G” on the wall. The gendarmes aren’t far behind, and with nowhere else to turn, Ethan seeks succor at the local Freemasonry Lodge, for he is also a Mason.
Berthollet, a scientist who belongs to the lodge, suggests a possible way Gage could escape persecution, learn more about the secrets behind the medallion, and assist with a scientific investigation. All he’d have to do is join up with the young upstart Napoleon’s army and the team of scientists he’s taking with him on his mission of conquest in Egypt:
“You go, contribute to our speculations, and by the time you return everyone will
have forgotten the unfortunate death of a whore.”
Dietrich weaves a story rich in action and description that takes the readers from the streets of post-Revolution Paris to the deserts and harems of Egypt. Gage is not only along for the ride; he becomes a reluctant participant in the historical events of the story. He is befriended by the “most famous prison fugitive in France,” Sir Sidney Smith, and participates in a shoot-out with Mamelukes in Egypt and in a naval battle against Lord Nelson. Napoleon himself comes to rely on Gage for both his skills with the longrifle and to unravel the secrets of the medallion,n which he hopes will make him even more powerful and unbeatable.
Napoleon's Pyramids is a fascinating look at Napoleon, as seen from the perspective of his contemporaries. The most famous general of all time is presented perhaps better than he could be in any nonfiction account. We see his military genius, his towering pride and egotism, and how love and jealousy could drive him to stage battles and take terrible risks with people’s lives. As Napoleon says:
“We’re on a great mission, Ethan Gage, to unify east and west. Compared to that,
individual souls mean little.”
The villains of Napoleon's Pyramids are sufficiently evil to captivate the reader’s attention and elevate the tale’s thrill level and readers’ heartbeats. Count Silano and his henchman, Achmed Bin Sadr, pursue Gage over the lengths of Paris and Egypt to try to wrest control of the medallion from him and learn the powers it possesses. Silano wants eternal life and occult strength and will stop at nothing to gain the artifact, even sending Gage the head of one of his friends, the journalist Talma, in a pot of oil as a macabre warning.
Napoleon's Pyramids is not some pale imitation of The Da Vinci Code. It is a well-written story that explores conspiracy theories, Masonic secrets, and historical events somewhat like Dan Brown does, but stands on its own merits. Was the historian Herodotus right? Are there discoveries yet to be made underneath the pyramids?
Using my highly developed prophetic powers, I sense a movie in the works-- Napoleon's Pyramids is a sweeping panoramic adventure story that would make a great flick. Until then, enjoy this book Dietrich, who is also the author of Hadrian’s Wall and Scourge of God, and rejoice in the fact that there’s a sequel already in the works.