With the recent wave of stories centered on cryptic codes, ancient icons and sacred books thought to be forever lost, NAPOLEON'S PYRAMIDS leaps to the top of the heap with its highly intellectual approach. It is like a series of little history lessons, only the lessons read like adventure vignettes interwoven with religious debates and mythical tales. Full of so many fascinating facts and philosophies, it will take more than one very enjoyable reading --- and never mind the breathtaking thrills.
As Napoleon Bonaparte is finalizing plans to conquer Egypt, American Ethan Gage wins a medallion in a card game. It seemed like good luck at the time, but was it really? Maybe it was preordained; maybe it was fate. He tucks it away and tries to go on with life as usual, but finds himself pursued by ruthless villains willing to do almost anything to get it. He runs into some "legal problems," as he puts it, and is forced to flee Paris. The best course of action appears to be hooking up with Napoleon's army as a savant, ostensibly tagging along in order to study the secrets of the pyramids.
While he had hoped to leave his troubles behind him, they won't go away so simply. But the more he is ambushed, chased and shot at, the more he redoubles his determination to safeguard the medallion and ultimately unravel its mysteries. Little does he realize the enormity of the task he has set for himself.
More than once, Gage is tempted to give it away, but something always stops him. It would have been much easier --- and much safer --- had he decided to relinquish it. But of course, then there would have been no story. A stubborn man, he holds fast to it. "What annoyed me is that no one ever asked politely. They shoved pistols in my face, stole boots, and threw snakes at my bed."
Along the way, Gage is rescued by gypsies and enjoys their hospitality for a few days. A woman in the camp does a Tarot reading for Gage, and her message leaves him puzzled at the time. "The cards say you will learn what I mean when you get where you must go. You are the fool who must find the fool, becoming wise to find wisdom. You are a seeker who must find the first to seek." But, when he recalls it sometime later, the truth of the prophecy raises the hair on the nape of his neck.
Originally in France to work with Benjamin Franklin, Gage has attained some status, which is fortunate for him or Napoleon might have had him shot more than once. Since Gage has not enlisted as a soldier, he plays a little hard and fast with the rules and tries the French general's patience. However, his tenacity, determination and sheer will to survive impress Napoleon. So Gage continues his quest, with the help of the French, English, Mamelukes, Arabs, seers, mathematicians and a beautiful woman.
NAPOLEON'S PYRAMIDS is one spectacular treasure hunt. Think THE DA VINCI CODE with more mathematics, Raiders of the Lost Ark with more reality and the swashbuckling of Pirates of the Caribbean with more sand. It starts off with a bang and races full speed over land and sea toward an astonishing ending. Or is it a beginning? Whichever, it is hard to put down and impossible to read the last 50 pages with dry palms.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 12, 2011