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I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.

Becoming Josephine

Becoming Josephine: A Novel - Heather Webb

As a young girl on the island of Martinique, Rose Tascher visits a Creole priestess who tells her future, speaking of traveling far away for a marriage that will end violently, and, most shockingly, predicts that one day she will become more than queen. The prediction haunts Rose for the rest of her life, as she travels to France, enters a loveless marriage, miraculously survives La Terreur, and ultimately becomes Napoleon's beloved empress, Josephine. 



I loved reading this book! I requested it on LibraryThing because I've always been interested in French history and I was so excited when I was selected to receive an advance review copy. This book was especially exciting to read because, prior to reading it, I had little knowledge about the life of Napoleon's first wife, and I was eager to learn more about her. Webb depicts a vivacious, loving woman who led a fascinating life, full of adventure, tragedy, and romance.


I loved Rose/Josephine's voice. She's truly a likeable character. As I mentioned in one of my updates, she comes off as a bit naive at times, especially early in her life, but that's to be expected and I think that Webb does a good job of showing how Rose matures into Josephine. She's incredibly passionate and stubborn, and this made for a much more colorful story, even though the book's pretty fast-moving on its own. 


I felt that some of the dialogue was a bit too modern to be believable. To some extent, this is unavoidable - not many people would want to read books written entirely in antiquated dialogue, not to mention that if this were to be truly accurate, everything would be written in French, which is simply not practical for a book that's being marketed in the United States. However, I did occasionally pick up on slang that I felt was too modern to be included - for example, at one point, a character complains that she looks like a "square," and though the term is not exactly common today, I felt that it was still too modern to be included in a book that takes place in the late eighteenth century. One thing that I did like was that Webb would include a few French phrases, a common trend in books that are set in foreign countries, and a choice of which I approve, as I think it adds a degree of authenticity. 


Rose/Josephine's life was incredibly tumultuous, so I don't think that it would very difficult to write a novel about her and make it exciting. However, Webb added to this excitement by choosing to have nearly every chapter end in a cliff hanger as Rose/Josephine enters a new stage in her life. This made the book nearly impossible to put down and it definitely helped the story keep moving. 


I think it was very interesting how Rose used sexuality as a bargaining tool. At one point, Webb alludes to the possibility that Rose may have used sex to free the former nobility from prisons during La Terreur. I don't know if this is historically accurate, but if it is, I wish that Webb had elaborated on it a bit more, as I think it's an especially interesting detail in the life of a future empress. On the topic of historical accuracy, as stated, I am no expert on the life of Josephine - this is the first book that I have ever read about her. As a result, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this book. I can safely say, however, that it comes across as well-researched, and I think that Webb has a flair for telling a good story while still conveying what comes across as fact to the reader. 


At one point in the story, Rose/Josephine's maid/half-sister, Mimi, simply seems to drop from existence. In the beginning, she's consistently included as Rose's confidante, and then all of a sudden, she completely disappears for several chapters - I actually thought that she may have died and I just missed it! But then, she appears again. I wish Webb had explained her absence. Mimi's not a major character; her main function is essentially to be Rose's confidante, but as the story progresses, Rose does develop new friendships and these women serve in that capacity. However, I do feel that because she was so instrumental in that role at the beginning, her absence in the middle of the book deserves some sort of explanation, especially since it's noticeable to the reader. 


One thing that I picked up on and really enjoyed were the parallels between Josephine's life and that of Anne Boleyn. My very favorite topic for historical fiction is Tudor England and Anne Boleyn in particular. I think the most important similarity between the lives of Josephine and Anne Boleyn were that they were ultimately discarded by their royal husbands because of their failure to produce a male heir to the throne. Unfortunately, I cannot credit Webb with the parallels between these two women, but as a history buff, I did appreciate it :) 


I really liked this book and I think that readers who are interested in strong female characters, particularly in historical fiction novels, will be drawn into the story. The character development was fantastic, especially Rose/Josephine's, as she was the narrator. But I also think that the secondary characters were well-portrayed, especially Napoleon and his family. When this book is released to the public in a few weeks, I definitely recommend that you go grab a copy for yourself - you won't regret it!


Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of this book from LibraryThing, but in no way did this influence my review.