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The Dakota Cipher: An Ethan Gage Adventure    by William Dietrich order for
Dakota Cipher
by William Dietrich
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

William Dietrich continues to fill in the fabulous exploits of his womanizing adventurer hero (in the Indiana Jones style), Ethan Gage, in The Dakota Cipher. After taking him to Napoleonic France, Egypt and Jerusalem in Napoleon's Pyramids and The Rosetta Key, Dietrich returns Ethan to North America on the trail of Thor's Hammer and in the company of one-eyed Norwegian Magnus Bloodhammer, a descendant of royalty who resembles Thor himself.

After helping Napoleon win against the Austrians, negotiating peace between France and America, and surviving an assassination attempt and an equally dangerous liaison with Napoleon's sister Paulette, Ethan takes ship for his home shores, bearing letters from Napoleon to the U.S. President. He's accompanied by Magnus, who tells him of Norse voyagers (linked to the Templars), who penetrated to the middle of North America and left behind Thor's Hammer, 'an artifact so powerful, so earthshaking, that whoever finds it will control the future!' Of course, being 'chronically in debt', Ethan hopes for treasure too.

The mismatched pair escape assassination attempts in New York by the skin of their teeth, and then meet with newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, who funds them (to a limited extent) to explore on his behalf and look out for wooly elephants and blue-eyed Indians. They set out armed with a double-bladed ax (Magnus) and longrifle and tomahawk (Ethan). In Detroit, they meet with Lord Cecil Somerset and his exquisite cousin Aurora (the femme fatale of the piece) and accept their offer to journey on to Grand Portage with their party. The Somersets know of the Egyptian Rite - Ethan's defeated nemesis Silano was a member.

Ethan and Magnus learn to canoe, guided by Pierre Radisson, who calls them donkeys but becomes a friend. Then at Grand Portage, things fall apart. Ethan, Magnus and Pierre end up in flight from ill-reputed chief Red Jacket, taking with them two Mandan women he had enslaved (one of them the lovely blue-eyed Namida). After many violent adventures, and guided by a rune stone, they do find Thor's Hammer - and it's nothing like Ethan had expected. As this venture ends, he wonders if the wilderness (which he admits frightened him) is the real Eden, and concludes that 'Half the things I try seem to turn to ashes.'

Though I'm a big fan of Ethan Gage, I didn't enjoy The Dakota Cipher quite as much as the previous books, perhaps because so much is unresolved at the ending. It reads like the first of two parts, and I look forward to more, perhaps even to seeing Gage reunited with his lost love Astiza. Though, as always in the series, a lot of what happens strains credulity, the author's intriguing Historical Note at the back reveals that a surprising amount is real. Ethan Gage fans - or any who enjoy a riotous historical adventure - do not want to miss The Dakota Cipher.

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