"The Emerald Storm" by William Dietrich
Reviewed by David Marshall James
The new century is awash with conflict, with superpowers grinding and grasping for global domination.
And it's just 1803.
The more things change, the more they stay the same: One of the themes of William Dietrich's fifth Ethan Gage adventure, certainly intended as entertainment, with any historical lessons to be gleaned therefrom pure lagniappe.
As for the aforementioned superpowers-- England and France (well, some things do change)-- they've got their teeth sunk into colonial bread on every continent and many islands, large and small, betwixt and between.
Even so, Napoleon Bonaparte wants the whole enchilada-- well, eclair. However, France has guillotined much of its manpower through the Reign of Terror, and the protracted upheaval of the country's revolution has upset the order of its military infrastructure.
If only the Emperor could sail across (fly over? tunnel under?) the English Channel and invade with a sizable army. A cash infusion from the Louisiana Purchase will help; moreover, Napoleon needs all hands out of the French Quarter of New Orleans and onto French quarter decks.
Spies, secret agents, and double- and triple-crossers abound in the wake of such grandiose military wishes, among them Ethan Gage-- a dashing 35-year-old American adventurer who has recently acquired a Greek/Egyptian wife, Astiza, and their (thitherto unbeknownst to him) three-year-old son.
The protagonist and his wife wind up in the Caribbean, seeking a legendary (transported and secreted) Aztec treasure in order to ransom their kidnapped son.
They land first in the British colony of Antigua, grown rich from sugar cane, sugar production, and slave labor, but continually cowering under the cloud of "Yellow Jack" that fells many a plantation dweller and soldier.
Yellow fever has resulted in an imbalance of power in what will soon become Haiti. Gage is swept up in Gen. Dessalines's slave revolt in an exciting, extended portion of the plot, in which Dietrich supplies enough historical flourishes for the the reader to realize how that island nation has been destined for failure ever since.
The author has a talent for the details-- and for conversational references-- that cloak the adventure in the appropriate time frame and locale. Gage's frequent quotations from, and ruminations on, his mentor, Benjamin Franklin, further the period touch.
Gage's derring-do and forever-a-moment-too-late realizations enhance the comic buoyancy in this tale of a time gone by, when the World seemed boundless and rife with hidden riches.
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