A gifted, knowing, and subtle storyteller, Aronson (Crowns in Conflict, 1986; Victoria and Disraeli, 1978, etc.) re-creates the mythic love story of Napoleon and Josephine as if it were contemporary and told for the first time. Napoleon, the 25-year-old ragged Corsican soldier--ambitious, austere, intense, brilliant, sexually inept--married his opposite in Josephine, a 32-year-old widow with two children, languid, sensuous, extravagant, vain, and recently released from prison, where she had narrowly escaped being executed along with her husband during the Reign of Terror. Aronson's tracing of their love story follows Napoleon's passionate, obsessive demands on Josephine during the first year of their marriage, when they were mostly separated; his discovery of her infidelities and threat of divorce while he was conquering Egypt; her successful recovery of his love on his return; her machinations to retain his devotion and produce an heir; the brief balance of power and love they achieved as Emperor and Empress; his infidelities and his ultimate divorcing her to marry the plain and plump Archduchess of Austria, who produced his heir before abandoning him. The romance is played out against a background of war and of personal conflict with Napoleon's greedy and manipulative siblings, with whom he populated the thrones of Europe but who spent their energies undermining Josephine. Napoleon was, however, fortunate in his stepchildren and in his wife, in the refuges she provided, the palaces, gardens, dinners, and her own swan-shaped bed. A careful, sensitive, engaging representation of a difficult subject, preserving the dignity of two people who loved--who in fact did everything--to excess. Depicting with empathy the terrible contradictions between passion and obligation, between heroic public figures and their petty, even sordid, private selves, this is a splendid, moving story.