Through four highly frenetic novels, William Dietrich has breathed into life the magnificent character of Ethan Gage. Ethan is an American adventurer who has befriended both the British and Napoleon’s French army to suit whatever particular alliance he needs at the moment while continuing to keep America close to his heart. He is a crazed hybrid of Captain Jack Sparrow and Indiana Jones with the same tendency to get into and out of one hair-raising situation after another.
THE BARBARY PIRATES begins in 1802 and finds Ethan amidst a group of famous international savants --- Frenchman Georges Cuvier, a prominent zoologist and paleontologist; Englishman William Smith, the father of English geology; and fellow American Robert Fulton, the tireless inventor of several items, most notably the submarine known as the Nautilus that is put to use during the novel’s climax. Ethan begins as merely being their tour guide, but ends up getting them smack in the middle of an international dilemma.
Ethan is initially on a mission to protect a U.S. ship from the infamous Barbary Pirates while heading to Paris in an effort to meet with Napoleon and persuade him to accept President Thomas Jefferson’s offer in what would come to be known as the Louisiana Purchase. Napoleon seems swayed by Ethan’s pitch, but asks a favor in return. Long a student of ancient warfare, Napoleon has heard the tale about the legendary mirror of Archimedes that allegedly burned the Roman fleet during ancient battles and is supposedly hidden on the isle of Thira. Ethan had actually seen the words “Thira” and “Og” written on a piece of foil during his previous adventure, documented in THE DAKOTA CIPHER. Both of these words spark Napoleon’s interest and prompt his move to make a deal that will send Ethan and the savants across the Mediterranean in search of Archimedes’ mirror.
Do Ethan and his group locate the mirror? Yes, but not after a series of chases and traps that find them stranded in an underground series of tunnels that may have been created by the Knights Templar themselves. Notice of their famous discovery travels quickly, and they soon find out that the shipman for hire was actually a member of the infamous Barbary Pirates. To make matters that much worse, this band of Pirates are in league with the evil vixen Aurora Somerset of the Egyptian Rite, who still has a serious score to settle with Ethan following their run-in during THE DAKOTA CIPHER.
To further complicate matters, and to assure Ethan’s cooperation, Aurora brings forth his long-lost and feared departed love, Astiza. The jaw-dropping moments don’t end there as Astiza introduces Ethan to his three-year-old son, Horus. Aurora threatens to throw Astiza into a brothel where she will be forced to live a life of seedy prostitution, and even doubles the threat by indicating that his newly discovered son Horus --- or “Harry,” as Ethan calls him --- will be handed over to a group of pederasts who will defile him in unspeakable ways. Seeking to keep his savant group safe as well as freeing his new-found family, Ethan reluctantly agrees to assist Aurora and the Barbary Pirates with securing the mirror of Archimedes. It is said that possession of this weapon could tip the balance of power in the Mediterranean. How will he stop Aurora, save his family and keep this ancient weapon from decimating the American, English and French fleets?
William Dietrich has once again penned a winner of a novel that is equally a literary rollercoaster ride and a terrific work of historical fiction. The legend of the Barbary Pirates and the mirror of Archimedes would have been enough on their own to make for an interesting story, but combined, it becomes one heck of a romp. In addition to top-notch action, THE BARBARY PIRATES is filled with many laugh-out-loud moments. I particularly liked when Ethan referred to the evil group that captures him as “the weirdest bunch of cultists, fanatics, magicians, mesmerists, and megalomaniacs this side of the House of Representatives.”
I try to stay away from clichéd phrases like “page-turning” and “one-sit reads,” but those terms accurately describe the experience of reading Dietrich’s Ethan Gage adventures. He has created one of the most likable and enjoyable characters of recent serial fiction, and I cannot wait to crease the spine of his next novel.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 22, 2010