The Emperor's Tomb (Cotton Malone, Book 6)
by Steve Berry
Release Date: November 23, 2010
2010 Ballantine Books
ARC Softcover Edition; 464 Pages
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
4 / 5 Stars
The tomb of China's First Emperor, guarded by an underground army of terra cotta warriors, has remained sealed for more than 2,000 years. It is regarded as one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world, yet the Chinese government will not allow anyone to open it. Why?
Malone's life is shattered when he receives an anonymous note carrying an unfamiliar Web address. Logging on, he sees Cassiopeia Vitt, a woman who's saved his life more than once, being tortured at the hands of a mysterious man who has one demand: Bring me the artifact she's asked you to keep safe. The only problem is, Malone doesn't have a clue what the man is talking about, since Cassiopeia has left nothing with him. So begins Malone's most harrowing adventure to date - one that offers up astounding historical revelations, pits him against a ruthless ancient brotherhood, and sends him from Denmark to Belgium to Vietnam and then on to China, a vast and mysterious land where danger lurks at every turn.
I have always enjoyed the Cotton Malone books, partly because their archaological discoveries have always fascinated me with their possibilities. This book is no exception in that area as the terra cotta warriors and the possibilities that go long with that archaeological site have long since been an endless source of speculation for anyone who has followed it. Furthermore, the terra cotta exhitibition is currently in Toronto, and this has whetted the appetite for things cultural and historical relating to China. So many people have forgotten that China used to be a world leader in so many inventions, including the drilling of oil, and this novel really tries to highlight how advanced this cilization used to be in comparison to the rest of the world.
If you are looking for a lot of archaeological discoveries in this novel however, you will sorely be disappointed, as The Emperor's Tomb is much more political than his other novels. I'm not saying his previous novels did not deal with the political nature of countries and societies, but this one mainly deals with the political strife that exists in China at the moment. While there were some archaeological activities in this novel, there were no great discoveries and intricacies as found in his previous novels. Once I realized this, I found myself absorbed in the Chinese political system, and the strife that currently exists; how much of this is factual or invented I have no way of knowing as I have never specialized in China and its history, but I found it fascinating. The stories relating to China's first emperor, Qin Shi, the rise and fall of the eunuchs, the differences between Legalism and Confucism, all led to some very interesting reading.
Ni Yong is the character I found the most interesting in this novel. Being in the middle of a vast political struggle over who would succeed as the next leader of China, I found him endearing,sympathetic, courageous, and determined to do right by his country. To see him deal with internal conflicts as to what would be the right thing to do for his people was fascinating, and I developed an admiration for him that I could not develop for the other characters. How Malone and Vitt got involved in this story was somewhat flimsy, but I accepted it for the sake of the story; they really had no reason to be there other than Malone is the main character in the story. And I can't fathom that sneaking into China is as easy as they make is out to be in this novel or it would be done on a regular basis. Or am I really that naive? Having a knowledge of The Venetian Betrayal would have led to better understanding of some of the byplay that occurred in this novel as the return of Viktor Thomas did present some difficulties between Vitt and Malone. If you haven't read the previous novel, you may have missed some of the subtle inuendos and some of the hints that came from the previous novel, and they were woven into this story so the previous connections did have a role.
While I enjoyed a lot of the action scenes in this novel, there were some moments that were not quite so believable, such as the museum in Antwerp that burns down (remind you of the museum that burns down in The Venetian Betrayal anyone?). Some of the torture scenes put a grimace on my face with the inventive use of rats and water, and to think these were common ways of torture in China in the past is kind of scary. Humans are so creative sometimes, just not in a positive way. And the scenes where a man becomes a eunuch? I don't think my husband would have read those ones, but kept right on going. They were pretty graphic, and now I know exactly how it was done. Ugh!!!!
One of things I really did like was how Mr. Berry used this novel to highlight the disappearance of thousands of children in China every year. As Vitt was hired to search for a little boy who was taken from his home for political purposes, the author uses this storyline to highlight this horrible problem that is occurring in China in the present day. Also, the debate between abiotic and biotic oil sent me to the computer to do some research and the result was absolutely fascinating. I have developed a newfound interest in this debate and Mr. Berry also wrote this novel to highlight this current international problem and heated debates are occuring worldwide. Absolutely fascinating stuff, and I couldn't help but think of the possibilities if the theories in this novel are, in fact, true.
The Emperor's Tomb brought so many ideas and theories together in one novel, highlighting a lot of the problems and strifes that currently exist in China. It made for some fascinating and interesting reading with regards to China's political structure and system, including many of the strengths and weaknesses that exist wherewithin. There were some very interesting moments in this novel, but I did find it predictable, and I don't really feel that Malone, Vitt, and Thomas were used in this novel the way Mr. Berry intended. I felt like they were there simply because this is a Cotton Malone novel and he has to be in it, and the reasons for these three characters to be present in the novel were flimsy at best. That being said however, there were still great moments in this novel, with all of Mr. Berry's usual thrills and quick-paced action that his readers are accustomed to reading. And having read all his previous novels, I will continue to look forward to his future novels with anticipation to see where Cotton Malone ends up next.