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    Review of NAPOLEON'S PYRAMIDS by William Dietrich(see his website)

    HarperCollins, February 2007

    When he wins a strange medalion during an all-night gambling session, American Ethan Gage doesn't think much about it--the French Revolution is under way, beautiful Parisian women await, and General Bonaparte is planning an expedition to somewhere. But when Gage is framed for murder and hunted both by the Paris police, a renegade mason/magician, and by a strange Arabic-looking man, he looks to his Masonic brothers for help--and finds himself attached to Napoleon's expedition to Egypt as one of Napoleon's savants.

    In Egypt, Gage has the chance to see Napoleon capture Alexandria and the battle of Pyramids, as well as the French naval disaster at Battle of the Nile. He is fascinated by the beautiful woman he captures when she was involved in sniping at Napoleon and Gage, and by the pyramids which hint at mathmatical secrets. Considering that no bodies were ever found in the great pyramid, what if they weren't really grave monuments at all? What if they were somehow keys to the secret of the cosmos? One thing is certain--Napoleon wants to learn the secrets, to become the next Alexander. And Gage's life won't be worth anything unless he can deliver these secrets to the French general (and future Emperor).

    Author William Dietrich captures the feel of revolutionary Paris (under the Directorate), the soldiers' plight in Egypt, and a sense of Egypt at this cusp in history. His action scenes are vivid and he mixes just enough mathmatics and puzzle into the story to intrigue without overloading the reader who might not want to slow down and attempt the calculations himself. I thought Dietrich also wrote convincingly about the cultural clash between eternal Egypt and the democratic optimism of the revolution--a clash that is echoed in today's occupation of another Arab country by another democratic western power.

    NAPOLEON'S PYRAMIDS is a welcome attempt to shed light on a little-studied but historically important moment. The Ottoman Empire was past its prime, but Napoleon's invasion of Egypt really brought the hollowness of this great Empire to light. The implosion of the Ottoman over the next century would cause, directly or indirectly, some of the great and destructive wars of all time--ultimately leading to World War I. Napoleon's decision to bring scientists along also resulted in opening new worlds to science--and led to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which revolutionized our understanding of Egypt and of history itself.

    Much of what happens in NAPOLEON'S PYRAMIDS is improbable--characters are repeatedly thrown together across hundreds of miles, bullets never hit their target, unlikely plans are achieved, but this is explained by the magical aspects that overlay the story. Rightly or wrongly, I decided that Dietrich's decision to use modern cliches and usages was part of the overall magical realism he achieved in this story.

    For me, the climax, under the great Pyramid, was a bit of an anticlimax. Because the secret was what it was, the entire struggle of the book seemed unnecessary. This letdown detracted a bit from my enjoyment of the story, but not too much. If you're looking for a historical adventure with a magical overlay, NAPOLEON'S PYRAMIDS should definitely be on your list.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 3/17/06

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