Gulland (The Shadow Queen, 2014, etc.) writes about Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte and stepdaughter of Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte.
Four years after the Reign of Terror, Hortense is 15 and on the brink of adulthood. She is smart, beautiful, musically talented, and seemingly has it all. Hortense lives in a boarding school for aristocrats with her close friend Adèle Auguié and her cousin Émilie de Beauharnais. The girls work diligently under the guidance of the strict but kind headmistress, Maîtresse Campan. Despite Hortense’s outward calm, she struggles to come to terms with her father’s death by beheading and constantly worries about losing her beloved brother Eugène as well, as a result of his military posting in Egypt. To complicate matters further, Hortense is torn as to whether or not to believe the rumors circulating about her mother’s extramarital affair with a family friend, Hippolyte Charles. Despite the initially slow-moving plot, Gulland’s attention to minor details—such as Josephine’s interactions with her in-laws and visiting fortunetellers—brings to life the essence of living as a young noblewoman in the year 1798 amid newfound political peace. The largely underdeveloped characters and choppy plot, however, force readers to work hard to remain invested in the narrative.
This one is strictly for history buffs. (afterword, historical information, cast of characters, glossary, map) (Historical fiction. 14-18)