Drachen by Brendan Le Grange is a classic treasure hunting story, with all the thrills and adventure such a labeling entails. Sorry, Indie fans. There’s no Ark of the Covenant at the end of this ancient bread crumb trail, no treasure of the Free Mason’s buried beneath national monuments, and not a single person stumbling through modern day Mexico in search of El Dorado. In Le Grange’s novel, Brett Rivera seeks the fabled treasure of the lost Hanseatic warship Drachen.
When Brett finds the wreck of the Drachen on the ocean floor, the intervention of hired thugs and the noticeable absence of treasure in the hold coincide to spark the scavenger hunt of a lifetime. Suddenly, she is thrust into a race to decipher ancient clues in a desperate attempt to beat Kalev and his mercenaries to the next piece of the puzzle. The hunt is further complicated by Sam, a British soldier on a quest to clear his grandfather’s name. Brett, Sam, Kalev – each is determined to win the race at any cost. But behind the scenes, a shadowy figure pulls the strings, determined to find the Drachen’s treasure and its secrets for far more sinister reasons than wealth…
From the first page, it is apparent that Le Grange knows how to bring a scene to life. His writing is bursting with imaginative metaphors that bring a refreshing zest to locations and scenes that, under a lesser writer, would be little more than filler. Throughout the novel, the description – whether of an old Gothic church, a subterranean chamber, a quaint Baltic town, or even a simple hotel room – is often astounding, effectively displaying Le Grange’s exemplary skill with visual imagery. The dialogue between characters has a good flow and rhythm; conversation and pacing is concise and direct, which successfully matches the pacing of a fast-paced treasure hunt.
Some issues that could use improvement revealed themselves in Le Grange’s novel as well. There are a few jarring jumps through Drachen’s plotline that are difficult to follow. Gaps do not crop up frequently, but the small leaps in time are inevitably confusing, leading to some frustrating revisits to previous paragraphs in an effort to understand what occurred. Also, many of the characters are noticeably flat, as if present in the plot only to fulfill their storytelling purpose and nothing more. Even the main characters are revealed through quasi-omniscient, backstory-regurgitating paragraphs that quickly fill in each individual’s past and current aspirations. Finally, the operational bad guy of the novel is laughably incompetent, which is lamentable, because he is initially set up as such a deliciously daunting antagonist. A villain who is outfoxed time and time again quickly loses his appeal.
But none of this stops Drachen from being exactly what it was written to be: a pulse-pounding treasure-hunting shot of excitement in the same style as Indiana Jones or National Treasure. It’s tense, it’s thrilling, and it’s remarkably easy to get pulled into the tale by Le Grange, who arranges a tantalizing system of clues, codes, maps, and fairytales to both tempt and frustrate his characters. Following ancient clues, engaging in harrowing chases, and outsmarting greedy baddies is what treasure hunting stories are all about. Brendan Le Grange’s Drachen delivers on all such counts.