Captain's Log

Canadian Book Club Review

Review of the 2008 version of the book:

Napoleon’s Gambit by Eric Goldman will reel you into a fantasy of time travel. At first glance, it reads for a male audience. A high-level military man gives pony-tailed Joshua Rick $5 million dollars to build his dreamboat. Part of the fantasy starts with the technology used to make the boat fossil-free for one-year. Once the boat is built, the military admiral wants Rick to sail this boat around the world and undergo a secret project.

Some of the dialogue between Rick and the admiral who funds the project is stilted. Part of that awkwardness could be the dislike each man feels for the other, instead of the writing. When Rick nicknames the admiral Cassius, the reader knows the villain’s identity.

I anticipated an arduous book about boats and sailing, but that all changed with the introductions of historical characters such as Napoloen, Napoleon’s right-hand man Captain Jean Coignart, and sea-faring British Captain Lord Thomas Cochrane. Goldman makes these 1800’s characters believable. The mystery of how Goldman would integrate these historical bites and bytes was compelling.

To be passionate about sailing, a sailor needs a boat. Captain Lord Thomas Cochrane thrills to his Impérieuse’s and her crew’s obedience to his commands; so too does Rick thrill to his computerized Bit-by-Bit, truly a marvelous boat, albeit slightly futuristic. The author’s passion infuses his story and makes Napoleon’s Gambit a page-turner.

With a villain targeted, Goldman layers in a female historian, for further motivation. Once our modern man begins history lessons about honour and eating habits from the early 1800’s in Britain and France, then lessons from a weapons expert, and more lessons from a martial arts expert, I was hooked as a female reader. Although the love scenes were not inspiring, Goldman’s perspective illustrates the importance of the senses for the male, “the feel of her soft, moist lips, and trying to trap her perfume molecules in my nose forever.”

Most time travelling stories move the person. Goldman takes time travelling to a new level by moving objects with the person, in this case, a self-sufficient hybrid boat, difficult to see on the water. Bringing high-tech into the past springs a new twist to the English and British historical warfare.

But does Goldman make the springboard into the past believable to the reader? The only access to the past occurs near the Fiji islands, using a time pulse combined with speed to jump. The closer a person is to this board with the time control machine, the more tonnage a person can jump with. When Rick lands in the past, only isolation on the endless sea greets him. Brought into this seemingly timeless environment, a jump into the past is believable. Did the jump really happen? We wait for the next ship on the horizon.

With knowledge of history past, does human life become more valuable as a time traveler? Rick discovers that interference with past events can have unforeseen consequences. Then the question becomes, what makes an individual life valuable? Is it the person, his character, his actions, his future? How to rectify one’s mistakes?

At one point, Ses, the female character says, “Modern people seem to have lost their moral compass.” In response, Cochrane’s ship doctor understands that to control the devil within, we must first recognize it. Goldman’s fantasy run, Napoleon’s Gambit, throws us into a storm of moral dilemma: Who is the devil? When does a crime become perfect?

Napoleon’s Gambit
: Sailing through history … to commit the perfect crime by Eric Goldman, iUniverse, 2007.