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Review: William Dietrich's "The Three Emperors"




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William Dietrich's The Three Emperors was a strange book to read after Amitav Ghosh's Ibis trilogy. While the Ibis trilogy takes place during the first opium war between the Chinese and the British in 1839, Three Emperors takes place at some point during the Napoleonic wars, which lasted from 1803 to 1815.

Both books see personal encounters with Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon makes a personal visit to India with character Bahram in River of Smoke in 1816, only five years before his death. Napoleon is a more intimate character in Three Emperors, as in his search for his wife Astiza, who has been imprisoned by a mystic interested in Astiza's witchcraft abilities as well as knowledge of the mythical Jewish Golem, Ethan Gray, the center character of William Dietrich's novels, joins the French side in its various military assaults (which, of course, culminated in a failed invasion of Russia in 1812).

Both books center around American protagonists who find themselves in foreign lands in the midst of turmoil. The Three Emperors is a more familiar setting, which require a great deal less research than Ghosh's work, and reminds me the reader of what a really powerful force religion was on Western society in those days - Europe was still very much segregated between Catholics, Protestants and Jews, while the charge of witchcraft is charged throughout the book at people who speak of ancient Greek and other "pagan" mythologies, of a lack of belief or for women who display an independent streak.

Both books also take on nineteenth century lingo with great abandon and enthusiasm. This is something that many writers just seem to have a lot of fun with. Zachary Reid's love affair with Mrs. Burnham in the final installment of the Ibis trilogy seemed as if Ghosh couldn't get enough of Jane Austen style writing and the discomfort mixed with intense lust that plagued much of European society in that period takes root in Dietrich's work every bit as much as Ghosh. Gage breaks in to several couple in the midst of "deep coitus," amongst other terms, throughout the book.

Like Ghosh, Dietrich swings between a narrative that displays many separate characters but, unlike Ghosh, he doesn't do it in a third person narrative. We see the events in the book displayed through Gage's view most of the time, but there are moments in which we see things from the point of view of Astiza, Gage's wife, or Harry, Gage's son.

The Three Emperors is one of many books featuring Gage, Dietrich's unique protagonist. The other books show him in other conflicts of the pyramid, including taking on the Barbary Pirates (a story that would certainly be relevant given the West's current conflict with ISIS) in a book called, well The Barbary Pirates, visiting the Holy Land in The Rosetta Key and an unusual journey in to the heart of the United States in The Dakota Cipher, which rests on the strange plot that the hammer of Thor lies in the American heartland, placed there when the Vikings made the first visit by Europeans to North America long before Christopher Columbus. I'm excited about this series - I will certainly read more and post reviews here.

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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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