Oct. 19, 2020
The Eagle and the Viper
Loren D. Estleman
Despite over 200,000 books being written about Napoleon, Loren D. Estleman tackles a much-overlooked subject in his latest alternative history / historical fiction / suspense novel, an attempted assassination of Napoleon.
Little really has been written in recent years about the plot to kill Napoleon on Christmas Eve in 1800. Estleman uses this real world event to spin a tale about a fictional assassination attempt, hatched after the Christmas Eve plot failed.
We follow the original plotters of the failed Christmas Eve bombing, and come to realize just how close those men came to altering the course of history. Napoleon rose to power while revolution was still in the air, and there were many inside and outside of France who wanted to see him ousted as First Consul. Despite the many Civil Law reforms he created, the overall stability he brought to France, as well as the country’s standing as a world power, many wanted him ousted.
Upon learning of the failed Christmas Eve attempt to kill Napoleon, the Pro-Royalist movement decided they would take matters into their own hands. These individuals had many supporters in England, a great many of whom were powerful and wealthy aristocrats who wanted a return of the Bourbon Monarchy to France to keep Republicanism from jumping the channel into England. The plotters are led by Georges Cadoudal, a former officer in the French army who fled to England to live under the protection of the Earl of Rexborough. While there, we meet a mysterious stranger who will come to dominate this book. While refusing to give his real name or background, this man, who will eventually be known as the Viper, is a hired assassin. The Viper provides sufficient information and details that Cadoudal agrees to hire him for the price of five million francs.
The book is filled with both historical characters such as Cadoudal, Napoleon, and Josephine, French police minister Joseph Fouche and Nicolas Dubois the Prefect of Police, as well as fictional characters who play a major part in the book.
The action moves back and forth from Paris to England, to rural France. Estleman paints a very realistic story about how life was at that time, since plotters were believed to be everywhere. Spies and police informants blanketed the land, and people were afraid to speak for fear of saying something that might land them in prison.
We never learn the identity of the Viper, nor what his connection was to the French military or his hatred of Napoleon, but along the way from England to Paris he weaves even more tales as to his identity. Despite what appears to Viper to be a foolproof journey and assassination, small troubles plague him once he gets to France, and he lets his guard down a few times, to major consequence.
A beautifully written book that is filled with historical accuracy, The Eagle and The Viper is a page-turner that kept this reader up to 4 AM. We hope he will again delve into the fascinating world of The Eagle—better known as Napoleon.