When I received Becoming Josephine, there were several factors I loved right off the bat: Protagonist is female. Historical figure (so if I’m hooked, I can obsessively Google them). Another friend of mine is quoted on the cover. Now I’m really curious!
I didn’t know much about Josephine Bonaparte before I started reading. While the setting is 1779-1809, Europe, the character is eminently relatable. I mean, here is a woman searching for true love. That’s her motive, in a nutshell. Who doesn’t know what that’s like, at some point in their lives? She talks about clothing, about her passion for her children and everything they do, she is smart, compassionate, mindful of her community, and charts her own course. Maybe it’s just me in particular, but I can relate to all of that!
She starts out in Martinique where her parents arrange a marriage for her after a family tragedy. She has high hopes, but once in Europe, she sees that marriage is just the same there: men do as they wish, women are left to live as best they can in the wake of those decisions. The dogged Josephine continues to push forward, never allowing herself to feel defeated, trying to make a good life for herself, and her children, as they come along. Paris is being torn apart by politics and she must carefully choose sides, for her husband’s reputation impacts her greatly, and vice versa. Finally, after separating herself from her husband, she meets a man who is desperate to have her, an awkward soldier whose passion often overwhelms her (and not in a good way!): Napoleon Bonaparte. Life is a whirlwind after that and Josephine strives to provide a good education for her children as well as navigate life as the wife of a very popular military figure who is a rising star in Parisian politics. She could never have predicted how life was going to change for her after marrying Bonaparte!
The long and the short of it is that Josephine is amazing! She is adaptable and strong. She is forgiving and compassionate but doesn’t hesitate when she needs to make a decision that impacts her future, sometimes doing so with brilliant, intuitive clarity. She is a daughter, a mother, a tarot-card reader. She is by turns a wife, and an ex-wife, at a time when it was scandalous to be divorced, and unheard-of to be devoted to one’s spouse, as she was to Bonaparte. Now place her in the late 1700’s, Paris. She is a modern woman, ahead of her time!
I loved Becoming Josphine, and while I wasn’t 100% sure what her real-life ending was like, I was pretty sure it hadn’t been a happy ending. I was relieved when the book ending was a soft one, for the reader anyway, and not a gruesome one. My heart broke for Josephine many times over and I rooted her on from beginning to end.
If you like historical fiction, this is a fantastic read. The backdrop of a twisted and torn Paris full of political intrigue and perils contrasts sharply with Josephine’s lush childhood home of Martinique, which she revisits physically, in dreams and through letters. Ms. Webb takes us from one setting to another, giving us beautiful details from all over Europe. The story is well-paced, by turns romantic and dark. We discover, along with Josephine, that another human being cannot be our roots; we must create our own.
A terrific read, highly recommended.
Disclosure: I met Heather through the group Writer Unboxed on Facebook (associated with writerunboxed.com, where all the cool kids hang out) and now we both Tweet for WU. So, you know, no favoritism or anything.
"As a former military brat and traveling addict, it was tricky choosing a landing pad. At last, I settled in a rural town in New England. For a decade I put my degrees in French and Cultural Geography to good use teaching and coaching high school students.
Currently, I am a historical novelist and work as a freelance editor (For rates, check my EDITING page.) You may find me lurking at the popular RomanceUniversity.org where I contribute to their blog with editing advice, and at the award-winning site, WriterUnboxed.com, where I pose as Twitter Mistress (@WriterUnboxed). I also kick around a local college teaching classes called “Write to Publish” and “Crafting Your Novel”.
When I’m cross-eyed from too much screen time, I flex my foodie skills or geek out on history and pop culture.
My debut historical novel BECOMING JOSEPHINE will be published by Plume/Penguin on December 31, 2013. (See my BOOKS page for more details.) I am represented by agent Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management."
Heather Webb can be found here.
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