The bestselling author of The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette and The Last Wife of Henry VIII returns with an enchanting novel about one of the most seductive women in history: Josephine Bonaparte, first wife of Napoleon.
Born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, Josephine had an exotic Creole appeal that would ultimately propel her to reign over an empire as wife of the most powerful man in the world. But her life is a story of ambition and danger, of luck and a ferocious will to survive. Married young to an arrogant French aristocrat who died during the Terror, Josephine also narrowly missed losing her head to the guillotine. But her extraordinary charm, sensuality, and natural cunning helped her become mistress to some of the most powerful politicians in post-Revolutionary France. Soon she had married the much younger General Bonaparte, whose armies garnered France an empire that ran from Europe to Africa and the New World and who crowned himself and his wife Emperor and Empress of France. He dominated on the battlefield and she presided over the worlds of fashion and glamor. But Josephine's heart belonged to another man--the mysterious, compelling stranger who had won her as a girl in Martinique.
Erickson's third foray into what she calls, in a note to the reader, "historical entertainment" (following The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette and The Last Wife of Henry the VIII) presents a compelling if occasionally fanciful first-person account of Napoleon's legendary first wife. As a child, the future Empress of France was known as Rose Tascher, a girl of "good breeding but no money" on the island of Martinique. At 15, Rose departs Martinique for Paris and an unhappy arranged marriage to Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais. Several years after their divorce, Rose encounters the "rather odd-looking, dark little officer" who will rechristen her Josephine and eventually make her his reluctant empress. As Madame Bonaparte, Josephine's public life and private life alike are filled with controversy as she copes with the scrutiny of the public eye, the ire of Bonaparte's family, and Bonaparte himself, whose feelings for her range from codependency to contempt. As he often did in life, Bonaparte upstages the other characters whenever he appears on the page, and his interactions with Josephine are among the most captivating scenes here. Josephine, however, emerges a dynamic and complicated heroine, and holds her own before and after her short-lived marriage to Bonaparte. While Josphine's Gone With the Wind-esque escape from her family plantation during Martinique's civil war and an implausible episode at the tale's climax may rankle sticklers, Erickson has deft hand with psychological portraiture and historical detail. She strips away the romantic idealism with which the empress's life is often distorted.