Book Tour Review: Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

Thursday, January 23, 2014
Title: Becoming Josephine
Author: Heather Webb
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: December 31 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

Rose Tascher sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending Court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution.

Through her savoir faire, Rose secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls—until the heads of her friends begin to roll.

After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Through thirty years and numerous personal transformations, Becoming Josephine chronicles the most pivotal years of the woman who was born on Martinique as Marie-Josephe-Rose de Tascher de La Pagerie de Beauharnias, but who would be most known as Napoleon Bonaparte's first wife, Empress Josephine of the French. Her story is an unlikely and captivating one, as was Josephine herself. Under Webb's capable pen, Rose/Josephine's story is both well-rendered and fresh, following closely her humble beginnings to her coronation to Empress.

Though Becoming Josephine is a work of historical fiction, Webb carefully balances the line between fiction and fact with aplomb. There is a lot of information freely available about large tracts of Josephine's life, which Webb skillfully folded into her version of the woman, but she also adapted and created life where little about her was known. All in all, with a mix of truth and invention, this Josephine reads and feels very real and authentic. Her personal struggles in life - for love, security, safety - are understandable, even while her star rises alongside her second husband's. Though the outcome of this story is known even before going into the novel, Webb makes the story immensely readable through the charisma of Josephine and her friends.

For a woman who is largely remembered as someone's wife, Josephine was a woman to be reckoned with on her own, before even meeting Le Petit Generale. Possessed of brains and beauty, Josephine's life before Napoleon is a whirl of affairs and salons, money and power. Though historically overshadowed by her conquering husband, she reigns over him in Becoming Josephine. Her wide circle of influence, her important contacts, and unassaiable charm smoothed many a path for him and helped him to reach the heights of France. They complimented each other well as a team, but as characters he is the less defined.  He is remote and unknowable, and the audience knows Rose to her bones. As shown by the author, Josephine was a smart and canny woman; one unafraid to use all her available assets.

For a debut historical fiction novel, or any historical fiction novel, Becoming Josephine is impressive. It's an involving and well-researched piece of fiction. It moves at a great pace, without lingering over long in certain times or skipping over others. Heather Webb has written an interesting story about an overlooked woman, and I was sorry to finish the novel.

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