It seems like ages since I received this book as an ARC. I've watched it sit on my shelf for a long time before finally picking it up to read it. I wasn't exactly dreading the read, but I wasn't chomping at the bit to get at it either. I'd read a previous book in the series (The Alexandria Link) and I found it generally enjoyable but also alternating between slow paced and predictably contrived.
I've always been intrigued by the character of Charlemagne but don't actually know a lot about him. I was enticed to this book by the promise of some underlying conspiracy and/or mystery regarding Charlemagne and his rein. While the conspiracy/mystery does center around writings left by Charlemagne and his contemporaries, the heart of the intrigue deals with a race of people distanced from Charlemagne but still overly intriguing.
As with the previous Cotton Malone book I'd read, we find Malone pulled into a mystery of somewhat epic proportions. This time he is propelled into the search for truth through a desire to know exactly what happened to his father ~30+ years ago. While this motivation is compelling, the immense coincidences and interactions that occur throughout the pursuit were far too overwhelming to be fully believed.
The research and historical information presented in the book is very impressive and once again shows the remarkable scholarly talent possessed by the author. The integration of this information into the story is generally good although at times it feels like I'm sitting through a rather dry lecture in a history class. Some information is presented again and again in slightly different ways, not only to keep it fresh but also presumably to highlight the importance it will play in the plot. Other information is generally interesting but is presented drily and in the end did very little to progress the plot, so much so that I found myself skipping over large chunks of narrative.
The story arc following Cotton Malone was compelling and interesting. His interactions with the Oberhauser (sp?) family were generally believable, though I often felt that the suspicions, paranoia, anxiety and general mistrust were overdiscussed and underplayed.
I was very disappointed and somewhat annoyed by the parallel story arc happening back in America. From the introduction and previous books, we know that Malone was an operative in a government agency (the Magellan Billet) and in the previous book I read, there were interactions with that agency and a separate story arc while previous co-workers helped Malone from the States.
In this book, the same general formula is tried by presenting us a story arc to follow Malone's old boss and her co-worker as they try to find the motive and solve a string of mysterious deaths. While the intrigue and excitement happening in America was well constructed, I felt that it was too artificially attached to pursuit Malone was following. The basic gist is that Langford Ramsey is seeking his personal advancement in the political ranks, first to the Joint Chiefs and later (hopefully) into vice-presidency or beyond. Unfortunately he seems to have skeletons in his closet (imagine!) and wants to do away with one of them in particular….the one that happens to deal with the death of Malone's father (heaven forbid his general inaction on a highly classified 30 year old mission come out…especially when his general orders were to do virtually nothing…still, I guess it would bite him a little…but no more than the other number of murders and nasty dealings he was involved with).
The adventure and pursuit of the assassin across various states was exciting and played out well. I just didn't feel it was well juxtaposed against the pursuit Malone was undertaking.
Overall, the story was generally engaging, the research was interesting (if a bit dry at times), and much of the story felt believable and realistic. The writing was solid. But in the end, I came away from the book feeling that it was lacking something….and in contemplation, what it was lacking was that it needed to be "lacking" more than it was. Clocking in at ~500 pages, I would have loved to have seen at least ~100 of those hit the cutting room floor. I would also have preferred a different adventure in America, or at the very least, a more compelling tie between the America adventure and the global Pursuit.
Enjoyable as a whole, but dry and painful at times.
2.5 out of 5 stars
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