Reviews: Fiction

The Emperor’s American

McGrath, Art. The Emperor’s American. Tucson, AZ : Fireship Press, 2013. 342 pages. ISBN# 9781611792591. Softcover. $18.50.

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Pierre Burns doesn’t like the English, but then he has his reasons.  His father, raised in France, was the son of a Jacobite who fled Britain after Culloden.  Emigrating to America with a French wife, Burns’ father was murdered and scalped during the American Revolution by Redcoats and their Tory allies.  The armed U.S. merchantman on which Burns was serving as an officer was sunk by a British frigate, shipwrecking Burns on the French coast.  Fortunately Burns was cast ashore amid Napoleon’s Army of England, training for the invasion of Britain. As Burns comes ashore with the remnants of his crew, he lands in sight of French Gen. Ney who immediately takes an interest in the stray American.  Ney soon sees the usefulness of having a bilingual American on his staff and offers Burns a commission and a spot on his staff as an interpreter, a position which will come in handy when the French army lands in perfidious Albion. Orphaned and at a loss for the direction of his life, Burns sees the job offer as an opportunity to revenge himself on the English and to have a cause to believe in.

While learning the military trade and how to be an officer in the French army, Burns is schooled in the basics of military strategy by Jomini, who takes as instant a dislike to Burns as Ney took an instant like, earning himself the title of Ney’s American. As he settles into his new military life Burns is detailed to capture a raiding party of British marines and their Royalist allies. Having successfully sprung a trap on the British raiders, Burns has his first meeting with France’s newly-created Emperor. Napoleon sees Burns as a possible useful conduit to the United States government, who he hopes to draw into his war against Britain (later Burns is invited to attend Napoleon’s coronation). Burns’ success also leads to further spyhunting, in addition to his duties as an officer in the French army. Spyhunting and foiling the plots of British saboteurs, as well as his other more mundane military duties, still gives Burns time for a little romance, fighting duels, and making new enemies and friends. And while Burns is hunting spies, spies are hunting Burns, known now to the British as Napoleon’s American.

McGrath, a former Marine, newspaper editor and life-long Napoleonic era enthusiast (and reenactor), creates a satisfying story that never drags as Burns navigates the treacherous waters of Napoleonic Europe. The Burns character, being a foreigner in Napoleon’s army, allows McGrath to explain the customs and military usages of the time (sometimes to too great an extent). The character also allows McGrath to turn the usual historical fiction conventions about the era on their heads. Instead of the plucky British officer and his outnumbered band of soldiers winning out over the nasty French, we get to enjoy a French officer (even if he’s an American) in that role and the wicked British in the villainous role. Any errors in details that crop up are of the type that will only truly bother the “busby and buttons” nitpicker and not the casual reader of historical fiction. This is the first of what Mr. McGrath hopes will be a series that carries Burns across the battlefields of Europe.  It will be interesting to see how the triumphs and tragedies of the Napoleonic era will affect the Emperor’s American.      

The publisher, Fireship Press, publishes other fiction and nonfiction dealing with our era that may be of interest to Napoleon Series readers.  Fireship Press’ webpage is: 


Reviewed by Tom Holmberg
Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2013


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