As with most (all?) books like The Charlemagne Pursuit, there are pages and pages of history lessons, anthropology lessons, lessons in classical linguistics. Fortunately, since Malone has some experience in globe-trotting, the exposition doesn’t come off as condescendingly as it did in The Da Vinci Code. For those interested in history or anthropology, this book does offer a little bit of insight, but caveat emptor - as with all (most?) books of this ilk, the history is sprinkled with doses of myth and imagination. Berry's story is (refreshingly) original, and while not breaking too many boundaries, holds interest up to the end.
The Charlemagne Pursuit was my first introduction to the world of Steve Berry, and there are a few mentions of characters and adventures from the previous Cotton Malone books. The only time Malone's character does anything interestingly human is when the story is over and he discovers the truth behind his father's death. The rest of the time, he's your typical secret agent, setting traps, extricating himself from traps, and following clues and leads. He does express remorse for the lives he's forced to take, which was refreshing to read. The chief antagonist, Berry would have us believe, is evil incarnate in a uniform. And that's really all there is to him. When the tide turns against him, he breaks the mold a little by still remaining determined and enterprising while losing his arrogance, which was a nice touch to make him that bit more realistic. Another pleasant element was the fact that he and Malone never directly interact with one another, leaving the dirty work to their respective networks.
But that leads to another check mark against The Charlemagne Pursuit, which is a complicated, intricate plot. Naturally, for a story that promises to change the world, you need something layered and multi-faceted; but when everybody's plotting against everybody, and everybody figures out everybody else's plots and comes up with their own plots to counter the original plot, and it turns out people who are plotting against other people are doing so at the behest of someone else, who has his own plots, then you feel like telling Berry to get on with it. Sometimes, less is indeed more.
The dramatic reveal (what led Malone's father and his crew to their deaths, what the crazy German mother is so desperately seeking that she turns her daughters against each other, and what a highly-decorated Navy admiral is willing to kill for) is interesting (fascinating, even) in its own right, but hardly the world-changing event that Berry builds it up to be. It would be of unprecedented importance to historians and anthropologists, but has little to no bearing on the present, modern-day world. As a premise, it's great, but it doesn't balance with the lengths everybody takes to discover it, obtain it, and cover it up.
Don't get me wrong, The Charlemagne Pursuit is decently entertaining, and carries enough interest that finishing it is not a chore. However, it falls victim to the same trappings of all the globe-trotting, secret history/conspiracy theory books that The Da Vinci Code popularized (similarities in the titles notwithstanding). If that's your cup of tea, then Steve Berry's work will be right up your alley, and then some.