“Borrowing” from the past: In Shield, Frank can understand and speak German, with some difficulty, after taking two years of high-school German. In The Jungle Pyramid (#56), the boys had both taken German classes, enough to speak the language roughly. (Before that, in Danger on Vampire Trail [#50], Joe knew what he’d picked up from TV.) The boys “perfected” their German when visiting the country in The Submarine Caper (#68). That book marked the boys’ only previous journey to Deutschland; they visited Dusseldorf, Frankfort, Munich, Glochen, and Lumburg.
Frank and Joe (mostly Frank) is in Germany to help Dr. John Maxwell, who was Fenton’s college roommate. We don’t know much about Fenton’s college life — except that he was a pole vaulter who cleared more than 16 feet, as revealed in The Sting of the Scorpion (#58) — but his acquaintances pop up with surprising frequency. Whenever the boys need an expert — a helicopter pilot, a FBI agent, a director of the State Experimental Farm, psychiatrist, prison warden, judge, head of NASA security, doctor in Morocco, Army general or Navy officer — Fenton will know one. Either they are an old / good friend or they served together in the army or police or Fenton will have run across them in his investigations. Perhaps that’s why Frank and Joe can use Fenton’s name so freely to get out of trouble: he knows everyone important.
The teens run into angry German shepherds at one point. They’ve run into German shepherds before: The Mystery fo the Aztec Warrior (#43), The Haunted Fort (#44), and The Demon’s Den (#81). Shepherds are the most common canine menaces for the boys in the original canon, narrowly nosing out Doberman pinschers and wolfhounds.
Joe takes over in an aerial disaster, guiding a stalled plane into a controlled glide, managing to save himself and the pilot. In the digests and Casefiles I’ve read, Frank is usually the pilot, but Joe is as experienced behind the stick as his brother. As I’ve mentioned before, both he and Frank get instruction from a pilot named Stewart in The Short-Wave Mystery (#24). Jack Wayne — Fenton’s personal pilot — starts teaching them in The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37); both brothers make an emergency landing in that book. They get their pilot’s licenses in The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39) and learn to fly seaplanes and float planes in The Viking Symbol Mystery (#42). By The Stone Idol, they’ve moved on to helicopters, and in The Sting of the Scorpion, they fly baby blimps.
At the end of The Emperor’s Shield, Frank, Joe, and Callie go skiing in the Alps. Frank and Joe are experienced skiers, starting all the way back in The Cabin Island Mystery (#8). That was cross-country skiing, though; their first downhill skiing was in The Jungle Pyramid, in which they skied the Alps — the Swiss Alps, though. (They also go cross-country skiing in Cave-In, #78, and Open Season, Casefiles #59.)
Lazy and awful: I’ve complained about covers before, but man, that cover is awful. First of all, it’s a picture cover, which are almost always boring, and secondly, it’s lazy even for a picture cover. Trenchcoats and fedoras? Which cover designer did Pocket Books get for this one — Clichés R Us? (It’s a cliché name, see.) I know the cover was designed to tie into the Hardy Boys TV series, just as all the covers from #105 to 121 were, but that TV series ran for thirteen episodes in 1995. This book was published in 1997; by that point I could hardly have looked for “the exciting TV series!”
The March of Technology: Oh, man, the ‘90s. If you need a refresher about how good we have it today, read The Emperor’s Shield. All the bad memories will come rushing back. The archaeology crew is forced to use a “microwave-size” scanner. Frank dials into a server, then uses Telnet to connect from the server to Web — specifically to what looks like a newsgroup. Later, to send a file to a server, Frank has to program the server’s number into a modem. Nowadays we don’t have to even think about servers or modems to move information around, and Telnet, for most of us, is a dim memory — if we remember it all.
Let the Hardys teach you geography: Shield has a lot of German geography, although I’m not sure it does a good job of pinning the towns and waterways to any context.
The book takes place in southwestern Germany, mainly within the (unmentioned) state of Baden-Württemberg. (For those who have a picture of Germany in their head, that’s down in the lower left of the country, bordering France and Switzerland.) The chums fly into Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg and a city of 5.3 million. From there, they take the autobahn south — presumably taking the A81, which runs north and south from the city — passing by the Neckar River; the Neckar is a tributary of the Rhine, running north through Stuttgart until it merges with the Rhine at Mannheim from the East. The narrator contends the Neckar was the border of the Roman Empire at its largest; Wikipedia puts the border a little east of the Neckar, but even if Wikipedia is completely accurate, the assertion is close enough to accept as true.
On the drive, the heroes spot the Black Forest and the Zugspitze. I assume it’s the Zugspitze; the narrator calls it the Zugspitze Mountains, but I believe the author is referring to the peak in the Wetterstein Mountains, which is the highest in Germany (9,718 feet). Perhaps the narrator isn’t thinking of the Zugspitze, though, as it’s in Bavaria’s border from Austria, quite a distance to the east of the Hardys’ path. On the other hand, it’s the highest point in Germany; who knows how far away you can see it?
The Hardys’ destination is Kolbingen. Again, I think it’s Kolbingen; the town’s name is “Köbingen” in the book, but Kolbingen’s location is the right spot, about an hour and a half from Stuttgart. The town’s population is about 1,300. They later attend a winter festival in Esslingen am Neckar, a city of about 92,000 that is less than ten miles from the center of Stuttgart.
Hidden for years, unearthed by the Hardys: Dr. Maxwell is well ahead of the curve in this book, using satellite and aerial images to find the road and fort he’s looking for. Satellite archaeology has become a viable way to search for the past, especially given cheap and free views from space. (Think of Google Earth images, for instance.)
I was surprised to find the Roman emperor Decius, the eponymous emperor, was not made up by this particular Dixon. Decius (or Trajan Decius) ruled from A.D. 249 to 251. Decius was the first emperor to die in battle vs. a foreign enemy, killed in battle (along with his son and co-emperor, Herennius Etruscus) against the Goths in northeastern Bulgaria at the Battle of Abrittus. Evidently that legendary shield Maxwell was searching for was less than effective against, you know, people trying to kill him.
Less convincing is the condition of the artifacts in the fort — “the air is so cool and dry … that everything’s been almost perfectly preserved.” So perfectly preserved, in fact, that Frank and Joe think nothing of picking up swords and daggers from Decius’s treasure trove to defend themselves.
Mid-life crisis at 17: Joe rents a car to get him, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend around Germany. What does he choose? A red Porsche 911 Turbo, utterly impractical except to stroke Joe’s ego; it barely has enough room for Callie in the back seat, and when they go to a festival with a fourth person, they have to take the train instead. (Frank doesn’t get to drive it often, despite being the person who can read the road signs.) Unfortunately, Joe doesn’t even get a decent car chase. What’s up with that? Don’t Americans always like the car chase?
Duplication of effort: When Dr. Maxwell disappears, certain aerial photos go with him. Joe volunteers to re-acquire the photos from the original photographer. The photographer volunteers to take Joe along with him as he takes the photos again. But why didn’t the photographer keep the negatives? I mean, that’s standard practice, right? For exactly this reason?
Dream big, baby: Stymied for a moment in their investigations, Callie suggests going to the snow festival in Esslingen. Frank tries to avoid having fun with his girlfriend, but eventually gives in: “‘It looks as if Callie gets her wish,’ Frank mumbled.”
Ha! If Callie got her wish, she’d probably have a better boyfriend. The narration does call her Frank’s “girlfriend,” so she’s got that going for her, but the pair only vaguely resembles a dating couple. Sure, Frank gives Callie a kiss on the cheek at one point, but then again, Callie gives Dr. Maxwell’s assistant, Stephi, a farewell kiss on the cheek, so that doesn’t mean much. When Frank and Joe rescue Callie from kidnappers, Frank “clasped her hand briefly.” Such untamed emotion! Callie tries to get a rise out of him while impersonating a wealthy collector, calling him “Honey,” but he doesn’t respond. At least Frank knows not to contradict Callie when reading new year’s fortunes; Callie says her fortune means she will become class president, and Frank keeps his mouth shut, despite his doubts.
Contender for the three most ‘90s’ words ever: “Everyone started moshing.” That’s a complete sentence, written by an adult (presumably), for money. It’s perfect in its ‘90s-ness without being self-consciously ‘90s. Bravo!
The author follows this sentence by saying, a little later, “The band cranked for well over a half hour.” Is “cranked” a synonym for “played” or “thrashed” or whatever that I just wasn’t hip enough to have heard in (*checks copyright date*) goodness, 1997?
We can be heroes: Frank and Joe not only save Dr. Maxwell from being entombed in an archaeological dig but they also save the villain’s unconscious henchmen from the same fate. Impressive, but to add to the degree of difficulty, the two brothers lug the goons out in fireman’s carries up a 15-20 feet tall ladder. I can’t imagine carrying 150 to 200 pounds of dead weight up a makeshift ladder. Well, I can, but my imagination demands I spend 20 minutes before climbing securing the dead weight so I don’t drop it. But Frank and Joe — man, I can criticize them for poor first aid techniques, but they can save lives when they need to.
Opinions: A story set in Germany in winter should be full of local color, but except for the schneefest — snow festival — and new year’s fortunetelling, we don’t see much of Germany beyond the clichés. The schneefest itself is mainly candied almonds and moshing, which isn’t representative of Germany. I don’t think it is, at least.
A foreign culture, the winter cold, youth, exciting new technology: Emperor’s Shield could have been a lot more interesting. Unfortunately, Frank spends most of his time looking over photos and fiddling with his computer, and the detecting is mainly accusations, a harebrained impersonation scheme, and chases. Fortunately, Frank and Joe don’t get to use the local police as their lackeys.