⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 Stars)
Ethan Gage is an adventurer and a bit of a comic scoundrel, though with a good heart. Separated from his family in a previous adventure, and fleeing Napoleonic defeat at Trafalgar, he makes his way to Vienna and then Prague in search of his lost wife and young son. Along the way he gambles, gets embroiled in war at Napoleon’s side, and is enmeshed in a scheme to find a lost automaton which can tell the future. He desperately tries to avoid war, French spies and secret societies, yet falls victim to all.
When I read the first few pages with Ethan Gage’s voice, I was delighted. He was rascally, glib and fun, full of witty charm. I enjoyed the character and hoped that the book would turn out to be a pleasant surprise.
However, while Gage continues to be a charming character throughout, and I loved his witty nature and some of the insightful comments made, for some reason the book itself did not grab me and hold me throughout. I had no interest in his wife’s chapters, with her vague spiritualism. I suppose it was meant to instil a sense of mysticism in the story, but I didn’t find it terribly interesting. I thought that her character had potential, but that the book lacked depth in failing to explore and deliver that potential.
There were some comical discrepencies. Gage is shot while in war, and that part seems quite realistically done. But then, only a few days later he’s already swinging a sword around for exercise and his left shoulder and arm aren’t just recovered, they’re the strongest they’ve ever been in his life, even eclipsing his right. Wow! Superhuman.
Then, at the end of the novel, they’ve got a single horse and sleigh and, in a period of less than two weeks in early February, which is the coldest part of the winter, somehow manage to travel from Trosky Castle just outside Prague in northern Czech Republic, all the way through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, past Estonia and all the way up to St Petersburg. Even on modern roads, it’s a journey of 1800km. Rather remarkable for a single horse and sled. Even more so, despite the Russians being at war with Napoleon, they don’t encounter a single soldier until they are within an hour’s horse ride of the capital city. Um…really? lol
I haven’t read the rest of the series, but I did like what I saw of the spy, Catherine. I’m a big fan of reformed characters, and while I understand the role she plays in the end, I would have found it more interesting to see her and the policeman change their tune.
Overall, the book moves along at a clipped pace. The Napoleonic war was interesting and the story had a good, 19th century feel. Still, it might have benefited from a little more depth and change of pace. It’s an easy, light read, nothing too serious. Good if you haven’t got anything better on your reading list.