Review

The Dakota Cipher: An Ethan Gage Adventure

by William Dietrich

William Dietrich has made a career of weaving history into high
adventure. With THE DAKOTA CIPHER, readers will be enthralled once
again by Ethan Gage, an American citizen who through the course of
this series has found himself continuously changing allegiances. He
always has had the best interests of his homeland in mind, but at
times he has needed to make other allegiances depending on where he
is and who he is with. We have seen him fighting with British
forces as well as being part of Emperor Napoleon’s troops ---
covered in Dietrich’s prior novels, NAPOLEON’S PYRAMIDS
and THE ROSETTA KEY.

In THE DAKOTA CIPHER, the action takes place in the year 1800
deep within the Colonial United States at the beginning of Thomas
Jefferson’s presidency. Ethan Gage, a swashbuckling cross
between Indiana Jones and Captain Jack Sparrow, is back on his home
turf and accompanied by a large, one-eyed Norwegian warrior with
the interesting moniker Magnus Bloodhammer. Ethan has never been
one to keep still and has been caught in the middle of adventures
that had him switching sides between British and French forces as
well as bedding some “inconvenient” women like Emperor
Napoleon’s own sister. As Ethan puts it: “I may inflate
my history to women, but no man can fault me for not keeping
busy.” Those who have met him know that this is not an
understatement.

Ethan’s current mission in the U.S. is two-fold. He is
sent into the unchartered and unclaimed western territories by
President Jefferson to uncover artifacts --- specifically, evidence
of rare animals like the giant elephant or mastodon. He is also
working for Emperor Napoleon to explore this same territory that
would eventually become part of the Louisiana Purchase between
Jefferson and Napoleon in 1803. Magnus Bloodhammer has a different
agenda. As a representative of the ancient Norse group called the
Forn Sior, or “Old Custom,” Magnus serves as keeper of
the past who seeks artifacts dating back to ancient Norse mythology
as well as the infamous Knights Templar. This particular mission to
the western U.S. territory is driven by a map that is supposed to
lead them to Thor’s Hammer.

As with every adventure of this type, the artifact in question
is no ordinary hammer, and those in possession of it are said to be
able to control the weather and lightning by unknown principles.
Since Ethan made a number of enemies during his time abroad, he is
more than willing to engage in this adventurous trek and has no
idea to what new dangers he is exposing himself. As predecessors to
the future endeavors of Lewis and Clark, President Jefferson sends
Ethan on his travels and fully funds their mission in exchange for
evidence of animal artifacts as well as confirming reported
sightings of a tribe of blond-haired, blue-eyed Indians up along
the Missouri River.

Ethan and Magnus cover a lot of ground in THE DAKOTA CIPHER,
beginning their U.S. adventure in New York and heading down the
Mississippi River to the area known today as St. Louis. Along the
way they meet up with fur traders and trappers as well as other
adventurers. One group they join is led by two Brits, Lord and Lady
Somerset, and their companions Pierre, a French scout, and a
hostile Indian tribesman known only as Red Jacket. It
wouldn’t be an Ethan Gage adventure without crosses and
double-crosses, and the characters Ethan and Magnus meet along the
way are not always reliable or trustworthy.

During their journey, Magnus shares with Ethan the real
intentions of his quest. He not only wishes to locate ancient Norse
artifacts but also desires to validate through this evidence that
the Norseman may have discovered and settled in North America
before Columbus and other explorers. Additionally, Magnus alludes
to the fact that the Knights Templar themselves may have fled to
America in an effort to create a Utopian society while leaving some
of their own treasures. Ethan is always up for the opportunity to
discover treasure and uncover ancient secrets, so Magnus’s
stories intrigue him. Of course, they are not the only ones seeking
these treasures, and they soon find themselves in competition with
the Somerset group as well as with some Native American tribes.

The term “cipher” has many definitions. For the
purpose of this story, it represents a secret method of writing
involving specially formed symbols (cryptology). Magnus’s
ancient map is supposed to bring them to an ancient slab of writing
that is more commonly known today as the Kensington Rune stone.
This tablet, which is carved with Norse runes or letters, should
lead them to the site of the original Norse settlement and location
of Thor’s Hammer. Like all of Ethan’s prior adventures,
this quest is filled with treasure hunts, romantic trysts, battles
and hair-raising escapes.

William Dietrich has once again combined several historical
premises with the fictional quest of Ethan Gage and created an
engaging and non-stop adventure story. I believe THE DAKOTA CIPHER
has the most interesting concept yet by blending ancient historical
lore within the young and newly formed United States that is just
starting to make its own mark in the history books. I can only hope
that this is not the last we see of this wayward hero.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 29, 2010

The Dakota Cipher: An Ethan Gage Adventure
by William Dietrich

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0061568082
  • ISBN-13: 9780061568084