Has the most interesting concept
William dietrich has made a career of weaving history into high adventure. with the dakota cipher, readers will be enthralled once again by ethan gage, an american citizen who through the course of this series has found himself continuously changing allegiances. he always has had the best interests of his homeland in mind, but at times he has needed to make other allegiances depending on where he is and who he is with. we have seen him fighting with british forces as well as being part of emperor napoleon's troops --- covered in dietrich's prior novels, napoleon's pyramids and the rosetta key. in the dakota cipher, the action takes place in the year 1800 deep within the colonial united states at the beginning of thomas jefferson's presidency. ethan gage, a swashbuckling cross between indiana jones and captain jack sparrow, is back on his home turf and accompanied by a large, one-eyed norwegian warrior with the interesting moniker magnus bloodhammer. ethan has never been one to keep still and has been caught in the middle of adventures that had him switching sides between british and french forces as well as bedding some "inconvenient" women like emperor napoleon's own sister. as ethan puts it: "i may inflate my history to women, but no man can fault me for not keeping busy." those who have met him know that this is not an understatement. ethan's current mission in the u.s. is two-fold. he is sent into the unchartered and unclaimed western territories by president jefferson to uncover artifacts --- specifically, evidence of rare animals like the giant elephant or mastodon. he is also working for emperor napoleon to explore this same territory that would eventually become part of the louisiana purchase between jefferson and napoleon in 1803. magnus bloodhammer has a different agenda. as a representative of the ancient norse group called the forn sior, or "old custom," magnus serves as keeper of the past who seeks artifacts dating back to ancient norse mythology as well as the infamous knights templar. this particular mission to the western u.s. territory is driven by a map that is supposed to lead them to thor's hammer. as with every adventure of this type, the artifact in question is no ordinary hammer, and those in possession of it are said to be able to control the weather and lightning by unknown principles. since ethan made a number of enemies during his time abroad, he is more than willing to engage in this adventurous trek and has no idea to what new dangers he is exposing himself. as predecessors to the future endeavors of lewis and clark, president jefferson sends ethan on his travels and fully funds their mission in exchange for evidence of animal artifacts as well as confirming reported sightings of a tribe of blond-haired, blue-eyed indians up along the missouri river. ethan and magnus cover a lot of ground in the dakota cipher, beginning their u.s. adventure in new york and heading down the mississippi river to the area known today as st. louis. along the way they meet up with fur traders and trappers as well as other adventurers. one group they join is led by two brits, lord and lady somerset, and their companions pierre, a french scout, and a hostile indian tribesman known only as red jacket. it wouldn't be an ethan gage adventure without crosses and double-crosses, and the characters ethan and magnus meet along the way are not always reliable or trustworthy. during their journey, magnus shares with ethan the real intentions of his quest. he not only wishes to locate ancient norse artifacts but also desires to validate through this evidence that the norseman may have discovered and settled in north america before columbus and other explorers. additionally, magnus alludes to the fact that the knights templar themselves may have fled to america in an effort to create a utopian society while leaving some of their own treasures. ethan is always up for the opportunity to discover treasure and uncover ancient secrets, so magnus's stories intrigue him. of course, they are not the only ones seeking these treasures, and they soon find themselves in competition with the somerset group as well as with some native american tribes. the term "cipher" has many definitions. for the purpose of this story, it represents a secret method of writing involving specially formed symbols (cryptology). magnus's ancient map is supposed to bring them to an ancient slab of writing that is more commonly known today as the kensington rune stone. this tablet, which is carved with norse runes or letters, should lead them to the site of the original norse settlement and location of thor's hammer. like all of ethan's prior adventures, this quest is filled with treasure hunts, romantic trysts, battles and hair-raising escapes. william dietrich has once again combined several historical premises with the fictional quest of ethan gage and created an engaging and non-stop adventure story. i believe the dakota cipher has the most interesting concept yet by blending ancient historical lore within the young and newly formed united states that is just starting to make its own mark in the history books. i can only hope that this is not the last we see of this wayward hero.