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The Rosetta Key    by William Dietrich order for
Rosetta Key
by William Dietrich
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Audio, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Rosetta Key, sequel to William Dietrich's historical thriller, Napoleon's Pyramids, opens with its hero in front of a firing squad, which sets the tone nicely for another whirlwind adventure that's at least as good - and often equally as improbable - as the first.

In his first riotous romp through history, American adventurer Ethan Gage won an Egyptian medallion at cards, was arrested for murder in Paris, and joined Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt, posing as one of his long train of savants (Benjamin Franklin taught Gage his discoveries about electricity). In Egypt our hero survived nonstop narrow escapes and gained as partner and love interest the lovely half-Macedonian Astiza. Pursued through the Great Pyramid itself, they escaped by air balloon, from which Astiza (and Gage's nemesis, Italian Count Alessandro Silano, who had her by the ankle) plunged into the Nile, their fate unknown.

As The Rosetta Key opens - and after the firing squad teaser - Ethan Gage hitches a ride on a British frigate to Jaffa, where spymaster Sir Sydney Smith has assigned him the task of 'assessing the various sects that might be lined up to fight Napoleon.' Aboard ship, Ethan made new enemies by his skill at cards - he fleeced quite a few sailors, leaving marines Big Ned and Little Tom particularly miffed. On land, a guide named Mohammad leads him to fabled Jerusalem, where he follows Smith's directions to the home of a blacksmith, Jericho, who works for the British. Smith neglected to mention the beauty of Jericho's sister Miriam. It sets Gage's pulse racing, depite his anxiety about Astiza.

Jericho and the spirited and intelligent Miriam join Ethan's quest for the Book of Thoth - 'the greatest treasure on Earth'. They enlist a scholar who 'has researched the ancient pathways' and Smith sends marines, including the duo who have a grudge against Gage. Their rush through tunnels and chambers deep within Temple Mount has the feel, speed and action of an Indiana Jones movie, and concludes with our hero's capture - hence the encounter with Napoleon's firing squad at the book's opening. Ethan Gage continues to survive a steady stream of near misses through the rest of this fast firing adventure.

He reunites with Mohammad, with Jericho and Miriam, with Astiza, and has regular clashes with Silano and his henchmen. He survives when Napoleon's armies attack Acre, and journeys overland to the City of Ghosts, where he must 'call down fire from the sky'. When found, the Book of Thoth needs translation, for which the 'key is at Rosetta.' Ethan Gage ends up back in Paris, where it all began and where Napoleon has unexpectedly seized power. Does Ethan win either of the women? You'll have to read The Rosetta Key yourself to find out. Sit down, suspend disbelief, and enjoy Dietrich's fabulous romp through history.

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