Published February 2007
Revolutionary France, 1798. American adventurer Ethan Gage, gambler, sharpshooter, and pupil of the late Franklin, wins a mysterious medallion in a card game. Within hours he is framed with a prostitute’s murder and in flight to join Napoleon’s secret invasion of Egypt, enlisted with a promise to unlock the secrets of the Great Pyramid.
Accompanying Napoleon’s military force are 167 scientists and engineers who will be the first Europeans to study the ruins of ancient Egypt. Gage is admitted to this company of “savants” because of his medallion and knowledge of electricity, learned from Benjamin Franklin. Did some mysterious force aid erection of the pyramids? Did the pharaohs learn the secrets of living forever? Even as he hurtles into war, Gage is pursued by shadowy enemies who seem determined to get the baffling medallion, and the powers it could unlock, at all costs. In a race against time and terrain, the world’s fate is at stake.
The story is populated by rich characters: the opportunistic journalist Talma with his Masonic theories of the mysterious east, the great French savants Monge and Berthollet, the beautiful Astiza with her hidden past, the French-Italian duelist and nobleman Alessandro Silano, the Arab mercenary Achmed Bin Sadr, the Mameluke companion Ashraf, and towering above them all the young, fiercely ambitious, and charismatic Napoleon Bonaparte.
This is a novel of huge battles, mathematical pyramid mysteries, a smoldering love story, perilous escapes, and the first great modern clash of West and East. It is all based on real history. Napoleon’s expedition – his attempt to carve out an empire in Asia – gave birth to the science of Egyptology.
Ethan Gage is a rootless adventurer who finds purpose with a woman he must save, and who will save him. Eyewitness to the Battle of the Pyramids and the Battle of the Nile, explorer of the Great Pyramid, and journeyer to a distant temple, he must decipher the medallion and find what even the ancients thought must forever be hidden.
“At the start of Dietrich’s superb historical thriller, his swashbuckling hero, American Ethan Gage, who’s living in Paris during the waning days of the French Revolution and was once apprenticed to Benjamin Franklin, wins a curious Egyptian medallion in a card game. Soon after, he’s set upon by thieves, chased by the police, attacked by bandits, befriended by Gypsies, saved by a British spy and then packed off to join Napoleon’s army as it embarks on its ill-fated Egyptian campaign. There the story really heats up. Once in Egypt, Gage finds himself beset by evildoers bent on stealing the mysterious medallion. As in previous novels like Hadrian’s Wall and Scourge of God, Dietrich combines a likable hero surrounded by a cast of fascinating historical characters. Riveting battle scenes, scantily clad women, mathematical puzzles, mysteries of the pharaohs, reckless heroism, hairsbreadth escapes and undaunted courage add up to unbeatable adventure rivaling the exploits of George Macdonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman. Readers will cheer as the indomitable Gage floats off in a runaway hot-air balloon, hard on the trail of his next exotic undertaking.”
“Dietrich is becoming a leader among historical novelists. While his earlier works were contemporary thrillers, his last two, the compelling Hadrian’s Wall and Scourge of God, took place in the Dark Ages. Oh, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Dietrich’s latest book takes place during Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt. Amateur scientist Ethan Gage is an American living in Paris, enjoying the earthy excesses of the post-revolutionary city. After winning an ancient amulet in a card game, he is framed for a couple of messy murders by an obscure Masonic cult that wants the amulet. Ethan, raised as a frontiersman, manages to escape and join the large body of scientists accompanying Bonaparte’s ultimately disastrous campaign in Egypt. There he encounters mystery, treachery, and religious enmities; fights in battles; and burrows under the Great Pyramid, all while finding love and solving the mystery of the amulet. This work is rousing, swashbuckling fun and proof that a good writer can make history not only interesting but an exhilarating romp. Highly recommended.”
“The author of, among other thrillers, Hadrian’s Wall (2004) and The Scourge of God (2005) takes us back to late-eighteenth-century Paris, where American Ethan Gage comes into possession of an ancient medallion and then, almost immediately, is implicated in a woman’s murder. Later, he joins Napoleon’s expedition into Egypt, where the Great Pyramids could provide the French dictator with the secrets of world conquest or spell certain disaster — for Napoleon and the rest of humanity. Rich in period detail and ancient mythology, this epic-scale thriller succeeds on the strength of its small moments: a conversation that illuminates the plot, a description that captures our imagination. It’s of interest, too, to see Napoleon reimagined as an adventurer, a dreamer, and an intellectual. Incorporating some of the well-known speculation about the pyramids (the mathematical significance of the Giza pyramid’s design, for example) but not taking it altogether seriously, the novel is a big, exciting romp that will keep high-concept thriller fans on the edge of their seats.”
–David Pitt, Booklist
“If you think that finding a smart, intelligent, well-written action thriller is as tough as deciphering hieroglyphics, your powers of deduction are on the wane.
“The book you’re looking for is Napoleon’s Pyramids, and it’s a two-fer.
“It has a plot as satisfying as an Indiana Jones film and offers enough historical knowledge to render the reader a fascinating raconteur on the topics of ancient Egypt and Napoleon Bonaparte.
“At the center of William Dietrich’s engaging novel is the young Ethan Gage, a former protege of Ben Franklin who is unwittingly set on a path to danger and high adventure when he wins an ancient medallion during a Parisian card game.
“Set upon by enemies who crave the medallion, Gage flees Paris and joins Napoleon’s military expedition to Egypt. There, his enemies in pursuit, he fights alongside Napoleon’s troops, has lengthy conversations with the feisty general, travels deep into the pyramids, falls in love with a luscious, smart slave girl, and searches for the secret to the medallion.
“The novel is all the more intriguing because the 1798 expedition — 55,000 men strong — is considered by scholars to be a turning point in French and Egyptian history.
“Napoleon made numerous military blunders in his battles against the Egyptians, mistakes he learned from and did not repeat in later fights against the British and his countless other enemies.
“And during this expedition, it is said that Egyptology as we know it was born, thanks in part to French soldiers discovering the Rosetta Stone, which was the key to deciphering hieroglyphics.
“History aside, it’s the lovable Gage who makes Napoleon’s Pyramids a winner. Armed with his tomahawk and his Pennsylvania longrifle, he is a refreshing reminder of what it was to be a neo-American, full of spirit and hungry for adventure.
“For this alone, Dietrich should be lauded.”
–Carol Memmott, The Sunday Oregonian
“If they had ever met, Philip Marlowe and Ethan Gage, the hero of William Dietrich’s newest historical thriller Napoleon’s Pyramids, might have become fast friends. They’re both clever and handy with firearms; they’re morally complex; they’re often caught up in situations they don’t fully understand, situations that lead to them getting shot at, being beaten or waking up with snakes in their bedrooms. And they both appreciate a well-executed example of the female form.
“The difference is that while Marlowe prowled Los Angeles in novels by Raymond Chandler, Gage accompanies Napoleon Bonaparte in his 1798 military campaign in Egypt. The general is hoping to conquer Egypt on the way to snatching India from British control. Gage is along as one of a team of “savants,” scientists that accompany Bonaparte to help unlock the mysteries of the pyramids.
“Gage’s savant credentials are weak at best. An American, Gage was apprenticed to Benjamin Franklin, who taught him enough about electricity to perform a few parlor tricks. The real reason behind his recruitment is a medallion Gage won in a Paris poker game. Although the golden medallion with vaguely Egyptian markings seems innocuous enough, people seem to want it pretty badly, and dead bodies start piling up in Gage’s wake.
“Once in Egypt, Gage becomes allied with Astiza, a beautiful servant who is definitely more than she seems — she speaks several languages, worships the goddess Isis and can kill a snake with aplomb. Meanwhile, Gage also proves himself to Napoleon, not as a savant, but through his battle skill with his preferred weapons — long rifle and tomahawk.
“Dietrich is great at bringing these historic battles to life. His description of the Battle of the Nile, in which England’s Admiral Nelson destroyed Bonaparte’s ships in the harbor near Alexandria, is particularly poignant, all smoke and chaos and fear. Dietrich also slyly shows some parallels between Napoleon’s Middle East misadventure and a more modern one:
‘When the Egyptians understand that we’re here to liberate, not oppress, they’ll join us in the fight against the Mamelukes,’ notes Bonaparte.
‘Victory is sometimes more untidy than battle. An assault can be simplicity itself; administration an entangling nightmare.’
“Dietrich evokes the beauty and mystery of Egypt. He lets us wonder at the pyramids and other monuments that rose out of the desert, full of secrets and mysteries. And he doesn’t neglect the thriller part of the historical thriller genre. We follow Gage as he faces down assassins, frees a band of slaves, sneaks through a sequestered harem at midnight, crawls through secret passageways in pyramids that no one has seen for millennia. And all the while, Gage wins us over with his American charm and gumption.”
–Miriam Wolf, The Oregonian