The Emperor’s Gold, by Robert Wilton
The Emperor’s Gold left this reviewer in something of a quandary. It is an elaborately plotted and soundly written novel set in a fascinating period of history – early 19th Century France. It draws on a previously unknown Government department the “Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey” as a predecessor to our intelligence services, and as such should be an excellent read.
However, there were no points when this reviewer felt the plot sink its teeth in. There characters are well created, the main protagonist believable (if sometimes unnecessarily mysterious), and the setting is well drawn upon. The problem is that Wilton tries to draw us through a fast-moving web of intrigue with numerous characters, shifting alliances, and all the double-dealings of any spy network.
Whilst this works to an extent, there are points when the plot feels without definite direction, and the characters are merely going through the motions of scenes for the sake of it. This only further added to a prejudice built upon the first two pages. An elaborate description of a shipwreck begins the tale, setting up nicely for the mariner that will soon appear. But in the opinion of this reviewer he does not appear soon enough. The multi-layered imagery of the opening pages, describing the wreck and the sea that surrounds it, simply seems excessive.
In the world of historical fiction, where plots move at an often alarming pace, we do not even encounter a character name until halfway down page two. This simply seems to be too slow a start to grab one’s attention. If I had read the opening passages in a bookshop then it would not have been sufficient to make me pay to find out more.
Which in itself is a shame. The Emperor’s Gold carries within it some truly entertaining characters. The plot, while sometimes confusing, has obviously been carefully thought out and leads to a satisfying twist. The ending is exceptionally dramatic, and this reviewer did not anticipate where the lines would be drawn for the various duplicitous characters.
Hence The Emperor’s Gold leaving such a dilemma in its wake. On one hand it is a historical novel touching on areas previously unexplored (no mean feat in such a competitive marketplace). Yet on the other, it fails to have the strong appeal that one might hope for. There are definitely strong elements to Wilton’s work, and I look forward to seeing what he produces in the future. I merely hope he opts to build on the strength of his characterisations, and leave some of the weighty descriptive prose behind.