What’s in a Rose? How About an Empress? BECOMING JOSEPHINE by Heather Webb

1812caempressjosephineAs we end our week of posts lauding Heather’s BECOMING JOSEPHINE, I couldn’t resist shooting her an email with this question: What are you feeling right now about your launch week?

She replied, “This has been a very emotional week for me. Many happy tears have been shed. The incredible support and love from my community and the overwhelming good reviews have had me awestruck. Beside myself, and so utterly grateful. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”

Woohoo! Her novel is taking off, and I’ve enjoyed watching its flight as much as I enjoyed reading it. Before Becoming Josephine, here’s what I knew about Josephine Bonaparte: married to Napoleon.

I had no sense of her beyond her wifely status. But then, why would I? I am the poster child for “what I should have learned in school.” I barely knew that Napoleon was Italian, but nationalized French because the French had land-grabbed his home-island, Corsica.

Here’s one of the many things I loved about Becoming Josephine: It inspired me to look up historical facts on the Internet. Not that I needed to because Heather knows her history backwards and forwards, sideways and upside down. Josephine began her life as Rose Tascher from Martinique, an unplucked innocent as tender as her name. Heather reveals Josephine’s amazing, perilous, heartbreaking, and ultimately life-affirming transformation into a regal sophisticate as at home in society as in the bedroom.

The way Heather renders Josephine’s life is mesmerizing, sumptuous, and surprising.

Surprising? Yes. Let’s take this for example: Josephine barely survived the French revolution. She was THIS close to making friends with a certain guillotine. The way Heather portrays the tumult of those dangerous years and Josephine’s incarceration had me flipping my electronic pages post haste.

Heather says so much in so few words, never bogging us down before she sweeps us up into the next scene. For example, Prisoners choked on filth, perishing on their vermin-infested beds before they had the chance to meet Madame Guillotine.

That’s a concise and perfect picture of what Rose endured, isn’t it? As a fellow writer, I studied how Heather did this. Actually, I didn’t because I couldn’t stop reading. But I plan to study how she did this. It’s incredibly difficult to do.

Also, also, I loved that we didn’t meet Napoleon until halfway through the novel, and even then, his appearance was underwhelming. This tickled me:

I moved to find Theresia. She stood in a bath of sunlight streaming through a window, angelic in her beauty, her pale blue gown a piece of fallen sky. The solder with whom she spoke appeared awestruck. He scratched his neck nervously every few seconds.

I wrinkled my nose. Who was that?

The gentleman was disheveled with greasy hair, and his soiled uniform fit him poorly …

Could we be any more in Josephine’s point of view? Wonderful, especially because this is Rose Tascher’s story, not Josephine and Napoleon’s story, not even, really, Josephine’s story because she was always tender yet strong Rose beneath it all. I loved this most of all – that we never lost Rose, the Creole girl from Martinique who became an empress.

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Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (March 2014). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging at Lisa Alber's Words at Play round out her distractions. Visit her at www.lisaalber.com.

11 thoughts on “What’s in a Rose? How About an Empress? BECOMING JOSEPHINE by Heather Webb

  1. I was shocked to discover how awkward and, well, gross Napoleon was. He was scratching himself in that scene because he had scabies from being out at war and not being able to bathe much.

  2. That was one of my favorite parts about the novel, too—seeing things from Josephine’s POV, so different from the way history painted the picture.

    Heather, I can’t tell you enough how happy I am for you. What an incredible launch week. Congratulations!

  3. You have explained to me why I love historical fiction . Fiction that makes me look up actual events on Google! Because I too, or at least my brain, seemed to be absent during any history or geography class. You have me most interested in reading this new novel. Thanks Lisa

    • Happy New Year, meco6! In school, I thought history was useless. Who cares about all that stuff in the past? The older I get, the more interested I get, however. So glad for historical novels! 🙂

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