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Napoleon Concerto
Mark Mellon
Treble Heart Books, 343 pages

Napoleon Concerto
Mark Mellon
Mark Mellon is a novelist who supports his family by working as an attorney for the FDIC. His life has been checkered with past experience as a soldier, translator, door-to-door salesman, skip tracer, construction worker, and teacher.

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A review by Steven H Silver

Although Napoleon Concerto, Mark Mellon's alternate history of Napoleonic France, is based on the concept of Robert Fulton providing a steam-powered ship to Napoleon, the focus of the novel is on Wolfe O'Sheridane, an Irishman who has fled his native land and is looking for vengeance against the British invaders. He hooks up with Fulton in an attempt to persuade the French to give Fulton's experiment a chance.

O'Sheridane's character is key to the entire novel and Mellon presents him as a rogue and a scoundrel who is only out for himself. However, the actual depiction of O'Sheridane throughout the book belies Mellon's representation. O'Sheridane has ideals motivated by his pride and vengeance and he works to achieve his goals. While a rogue would work for his own betterment and riches, O'Sheridane practically shuns his rewards except as a means to achieve his ends. Furthermore, he shows no signs of cynicism, trusting in people and events rather than using their own foibles to make his own desires come true. Rather than a rascal, O'Sheridane comes across as a successful businessman, weaving together the support he needs.

Just as O'Sheridane takes his time (not always as quickly as he would wish), so, too, does Mellon take his time. The work is slow to build, perhaps taking its pacing from the three movement Concerto design Mellon has elected to adopt. While the pacing is not, in and of itself, a problem, the slow build of the novel is exasperated by Mellon's decision to use overly florid language in his descriptions and dialogue. Selected as a means of emulating the early-nineteenth century, Mellon's prose hinders his story telling rather than enhancing it. His ornate detailing of clothing, machinery, décor, and so forth stops his narrative while providing the reader with almost cinematic scenery.

The story follows O'Sheridane as he achieves initial success in funding his project despite Napoleon's wariness of Fulton, who is considered something of a charlatan. Mostly through the force of his personality, O'Sheridane approaches both Napoleon and Josephine, and confounds their expectations, allowing them to give O'Sheridane a commission and the funding for him and Fulton set out to create their prototype vessel, the Actium, and the ship's initial success. Neither O'Sheridane's nor the novel's advancement is straightforward, and O'Sheridane is frustrated when his erstwhile allies and patrons get in the way of his carefully planned revenge against the British. Eventually, O'Sheridane is able to battle his way through both his allies and enemies.

Mellon's decision to base his format on a three part Concerto is interesting and plays into his overwritten style. Each section allows him to build to a crescendo, but the stylistic flourishes of the work detract from the narrative. Mellon's ideas and characters have a tendency to get lost in his writing, making Napoleon Concerto a novel for those who appreciate ornate narrative over straightforward story telling.

Copyright © 2010 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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