Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review: The Emporer's Tomb by Steve Berry

I really wanted to love this book.  This is the sixth book in the Cotton Malone series by Steve Berry.  I inhaled the other five and I loved all of them.  The basic formula for the series includes a mystery surrounding a historical artifact, a world issue, and a conspiracy.  Other books have included the Library of Alexandria and a plot to tear apart Judaism, Christianity and Islam; an advanced early civilization previously unknown to science and a cover-up by the Department of the Navy; Alexander the Great and biochemical get the idea.  Steve Berry is great at researching the history behind the elements in his books and integrating them into a compelling (to me) storyline.  I like learning about pieces of history, and Berry always includes an Author's Note telling where he got his research and what parts are his imaginings, which I appreciate greatly.  That's probably the librarian in me.  But somehow, this book didn't appeal to me as much as the others in the series.

This book's historical basis is in Imperial China.  The Terracotta Army was built by the First Emperor of Qin as a part of his burial site.  He included a replica of all of his belongings (including living servants) to take with him into the afterlife.  The burial site is important because it contains a sample of the first oil drilled in China, in fact the world.  A Russian expatriate scientist is now trying to prove that the oil coming from the Chinese oil fields is not biotic (decomposed from living organisms) but abiotic (secretions from the rock itself).  If this is true, China can produce its own oil and cease its dependence on foreign supplies.  And take over the world.  The ancient eunuch system in China originally served as civil servants to the Emperors but it was purged for abusing their power and status in the Imperial courts.  It has survived the purge and has secretly integrated into the Chinese political system and is poised to overthrow the government and return to Imperialism.  Cassiopeia Vitt, friend of the Russian scientist, gets involved to try to save him from the Chinese conspiracy and instead gets trapped.  Cotton Malone comes to rescue Cassiopeia, and together they try to end the conspiracy and save the scientist.  And the world.

The story was great, I thought.  The plot was Steve Berry's usual gripping style, and at least two characters continually switched sides and continually provided intrigue.  I love Cotton Malone's character, plus the fact that he shares a nickname with my husband's favorite grandpa.  I just didn't get into the back story as much as in previous books.  I don't know if it was a lack of interest in Chinese history, or that it was too much scope to absorb, or that I just don't like current Chinese politics; I'm not sure.  I do love history in general, but my interests are more reserved for Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and India.  China has such a rich history full of innovation and culture, it's hard to absorb it all. 

This was my first time hearing about the abiotic oil theory, and it's interesting for sure.  I believe, like the author does, that proving this theory correct would increase dependence on oil as a fuel source.  I like seeing other energy sources explored, like the wind turbines I saw in West Texas around Abilene and the ones around Boston.  I think solar panels are also an interesting new energy source. 

I was glad to learn more about the Terracotta Army and the First Emperor who built it.  I liked the story in general.  This book was just not my favorite of the series.

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