Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Emperor's Tomb - Steve Berry

    2010; 495 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book 6 in the Cotton Malone series.  Genre : Action-Advenlture; Cri-Fi.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    The video is chilling.  Someone is water-boarding Cassiopeia Vitt, and Cotton Malone is forced to watch.  The demand is simple – deliver the artifact that Cassiopeia has stolen and which she says she left with Cotton.  Immediately.

    Cotton has no choice but to agree; Cassiopeia has saved his life more than once.  There’s just one problem.  She hasn’t given him anything, and so he has no idea what “artifact” to deliver.

What’s To Like...
    There are three motifs to The Emperor’s Tomb.  One is the historical theme, which centers around the tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi.  Another is the scientific theme, dealing with a plausible wrinkle to the energy crisis.  And finally, there’s the action theme – thrills and spills as Cotton and company battle baddies to save people.

    Steve Berry seamlessly interweaves all three motifs into a complex page-turner.  You are never quite sure where anyone’s loyalties (outside of Cotton, of course) ultimately lie.  Not all of Cotton’s plans work out, and I like that.

    Some of the story takes place in Belgium and the Netherlands, but the bulk of it is set in China.  That’s always a plus for me.  Berry hits you with a bunch of interesting facts about the history and culture of China, but it’s never overdone, and amazingly, he does it without having visited China.

    There’s a kewl “Author’s Afterword” section at the end, followed by a 25-page short story about how Cassiopeia met one of the characters in the book.  I enjoyed both, though neither is essential.  It is enlightening however, to read which parts of the book are real and which are pure fiction.

    As with all of Steve Berry’s novels, this is a standalone, despite being part of a series.  The chapters are James Patterson-ish in length, there are no slow spots, and the story builds nicely to an exciting ending.

    “Faced with death, he who is ready to die will survive while he who is determined to live will die.  That thought has been expressed another way.  Shang wu chou ti.
    He’d heard the phrase before.
    Pull down the ladder after the ascent.
    “The most common interpretation instructs us to lure the enemy into a trap, then cut off his escape,” Pau said.  “Different adversaries are lured in different ways.  The greedy are enticed with the promise of gain.  The arrogant with a sign of weakness.  The inflexible by a ruse.  Which are you, Minister?”  (pg. 50)

    There’s quite a fight happening up there,” Ni said.
    Pau grabbed his arm and they started for the terrace door.  “All the more reason for us to leave.  We can retreat to our previous position, away from the garden, and observe.  My associate will do what he can to secure the lamp.  He’s-“
    “I was thinking capable.  But he is certainly both.”  (pg. 152)

You may rob the Three Armies of their commander in chief, but you cannot deprive the humblest peasant of his opinion..  (pg. 17)
    My only quibble with The Emperor’s Tomb is the stereotyping of the Chinese people.  No, not the baddies, and not the eunuch ninjas (“ninja eunuchs”?).  Rather, the everyday Chinese folks themselves.  They get portrayed as brain-controlled peons living in constant fear of the government.  Sorry, Steve.  I’ve been to China.  I’ve seen firsthand what a warm, friendly, and cultured people they are.

    Other than that, this is vintage thrills and kills from an accomplished writer.  Steve Berry kicks out a novel each year, and they’re always a treat to read.  Some folks criticize him as being formulaic, and that’s probably true.  But hey, he comes up with fascinating new historic and scientific angles for each novel.  And if a formula is good, it doesn’t get tiring.

    9 Stars.  Another exciting, well-researched, stellar effort by my favorite Action/Adventure author.

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