Sunday, December 12, 2010

"The Emperor's Tomb" by Steve Berry, reviewed by @mrneil98

We brought back @mrneil98 to review this novel for us, because he's a huge Berry fan and because he's just stinkin' awesome!

If you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift do I have the book for you. For me it was a belated birthday with the release of one of my favorite author’s new novel, The Emperor’s Tomb. It had been over a year since his last, The Paris Vendetta but my appetite had been partially appeased in September with the release of Balkan Escape, a short story e-book that acted as a prequel to Emperor’s Tomb introducing a key character, Lev Sokolov, and establishing a debt owed by Cassiopeia Vitt.

Berry has again delivered a classic Cotton Malone action thriller with exotic settings and loaded with historic facts. This time though, he takes a risk by making Malone and his gang secondary players to the main crux of the story, a power struggle for leadership of China. I was surprised early in the novel when so much of the focus dealt with ministers Karl Tang, a ruthless traditionalist and the more liberal Ni Yong and a third party, the mysterious Pau Wen. Tang and Yong were leading contenders for Primer of China once the aging present ruler stepped down. Pau Wen seems to be working for and against both but his motives are never fully revealed.

There are more twists in the Emperor‘s Tomb than a pound of rotini. Aside from the triangular power struggle for control of China, there is a triangular struggle for Lev Sokolov and his knowledge of “infinite oil” between the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese. The usual cast has reassembled with Malone and Vitt being directed by Stephanie Nell but Viktor Tomas has been reintroduced to confuse things. Tomas was from the last book, and was working against Malone then switched sides. Here he is working every side but is also developing into a rival for Cassiopeia’s attention.

Although the majority of the novel takes place in China, the reader is first treated to tours of Copenhagen and Antwerp, described in detail that can only come from first hand experience. After a brief stop in Vietnam, the remainder of the book spans the vast and varied Chinese landscape focusing a great deal on the history and politics of this mysterious nation. The center piece is the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shi buried with his army of thousands of terra cotta warriors, chariots and horses. I was surprised after reading the notes and a few interviews that Steve Berry had never been to China but he does own a life-sized replica of a terra cotta soldier.

As always Berry fills his novels with meticulously researched details about Chinese history and culture and I couldn’t wait to finish the book just to read the author’s notes sorting out the fact from the fiction. I also enjoyed the map of Asia on the first pages with key cities highlighted and found myself referring back to it time and time again during the book. Reading The Emperor’s Tomb was like visiting friends. The characters have become such a part of my reading world it was just catching up on their latest exploits.

May I wish you all a Berry Merry Christmas and encourage you all to join Malone’s Clones.

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