Friday, April 13, 2012
Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I was taken with the cover for this book and requested it without even looking at the synopsis. It looked like French historical fiction and that sounded promising enough to me. After reading April at Good Books and Good Wine's review though, my enthusiasm waned. I had the sinking feeling that I would agree with her thoughts on the characters.
But she was not wrong, in my case. I do adore books with multiple narrators but in this case I could not really connect with any of them. First is Eliza Monroe, daughter of future US president James Monroe, who is quite young and consequently a huge spoiled brat. Next is Hortense, step-daughter to Napoleon, then only the most eminent general in France. She was slightly more appealing. Last is Madeleine, a young mulatto actress who has found herself in love with Hortense's brother. The way their lives intersect in 1799 during a critical time in the history of the French Republic is the overarching story.
The tidbits we get into the lives of the powerful, particularly the dynamics between Napoleon and Josephine were fascinating. I also loved spoiled mean Caroline, sister of Napoleon and peer of Hortense and Eliza; although she is self-serving and often cruel, she was also dynamic and leapt off the page. But that is not the main story. Instead it was about the girls, none of whom I liked. They were bratty, boring, and overly dramatic at alternating points.
As for the historical details...this is not my time period so I can't really comment on accuracy. I did think the girls were allowed an extraordinary amount of freedom and liberties although that might just come with the time frame. It is post-revolution with a weak government at the head.
Then on the very first page of my e-ARC (something I hope was corrected for the finished copy) was a glaring error. Eliza Monroe is told this: "your father was first minister to France when Jefferson was president." Now it is true that James Monroe served in France, representing US interests but this book is set in 1799 before Jefferson had even been president yet. I believe Washington should be the president namechecked.
Overall: It really comes down to the characters, plain and simple. They didn't work for me and thus I did not enjoy the book.
Cover: This is what I first noticed so obviously it is eye-catching and appealing to the people who like covers with pretty dresses :)