Review

The Barbed Crown: An Ethan Gage Adventure

by William Dietrich

What if we could run the DNA on the heroic rogues and fortune hunters of historical fiction? Would Indiana Jones be an heir to Rhett Butler? If that were possible, they would both lead back to early American adventurer Ethan Gage, who, through six novels, has relived some of the most fascinating events of the 18th and early 19th centuries. These three anti-heroes romp through the greatest wars and events of the past three centuries with swash and buckle, gambling their lives on elusive riches, risking them in a relentless quest for treasure, adventure and always love.

"...a darned good recounting of a famous event tied to an entertaining and well-researched historical novel..."

In book six of the series, Gage is ejected from a smuggler’s ship off the coast of France in a violent storm at sea with a beautiful countess at his side, both bent on revenge toward Napoleon Bonaparte. His companion is a royalist agent, and they have joined forces to destroy the imperialist Napoleon for different reasons. Gage, who has a long and complex relationship with Napoleon in past adventures, holds the little Frenchman responsible for the death of his wife and the kidnapping of his son. He has signed on to spy for England as rumors of a French invasion grow. The countess lost everything in the revolution and believes that Napoleon has betrayed the French people; she, too, is an agent for England.

The two wash up on the shore of France ready to wreak revenge for their own personal reasons, only to find that Ethan’s wife, Astiza, lives and has recovered their son. Gage claims no strong allegiance to any country, and would be content to return to England with his restored family, recover the fortune he invested after selling a stolen emerald, and live a life of quiet ease. Those plans are soon scuttled, and he finds himself working as a double agent for both England and France. 

The plan to disgrace Napoleon during his crowning ceremony fails. Gage and his family become separated, and his wife and son are spirited away to Eastern Europe. Napoleon is now the emperor of France for life and more determined than ever to conquer England in his grand plan of ruling all of Europe. Gage’s only motivation is to live to fight another day and reunite his family. He’s in too deep with both forces to back out, so through harrowing forays, escapes and battles, he parries the advances of the treacherous and conniving countess as deftly as he convinces both the French and British that he is their man. Months later, he finds himself heading reluctantly into the legendary Battle of Trafalgar with both sides taking aim at him. 

The cinematic climax between the combined forces of France and Spain against Admiral Lord Nelson in one of the most iconic sea battles in history is a gripping read. William Dietrich’s rich narrative has you on the edge of your chair, even when you know (if you were paying attention in history class) how it all ends. 

THE BARBED CROWN is a good argument for why wars are a calamitous waste of humanity and resources, and proves once again that wars are fought NOT for causes but due to the hubris of men. That is not to say it’s a polemic, because it’s not. It’s a darned good recounting of a famous event tied to an entertaining and well-researched historical novel. It’s no spoiler to say that this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Ethan Gage.    

I had not read any of these adventures before picking up this one. I had met the author at a writer’s conference some years ago but hadn’t read any of his work. By that happy coincidence, I’ve discovered a whole new series to catch up on and anticipate. 

Reviewed by Roz Shea on May 31, 2013

The Barbed Crown: An Ethan Gage Adventure
by William Dietrich