I’d like to thank the author for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: January 31st, 2017
Synopsis: 1779, France. On the island paradise of Martinique, two beautiful, well-bred cousins have reached marriageable age. Sixteen-year-old Rose must sail to France to marry Alexander, the dashing Vicomte de Beauharnaise. Golden-haired Aimee will finish her education at a French convent in hopes of making a worthy match.
Once in Paris, Rose’s illusions are shattered by her new husband, who casts her off when his mistress bears him a son. Yet revolution is tearing through the land, changing fortunes–and fates–in an instant, leaving Rose free to reinvent herself. Soon she is pursued by a young general, Napoleon Bonaparte, who prefers to call her by another name: Josephine.
Presumed dead after her ship is attacked by pirates, Aimee survives and is taken to the Sultan of Turkey’s harem. Among hundreds at his beck and call, Aimee’s loveliness and intelligence make her a favorite not only of the Sultan, but of his gentle, reserved nephew. Like Josephine, the newly crowned Empress of France, Aimee will ascend to a position of unimagined power. But for both cousins, passion and ambition carry their own burden.
From the war-torn streets of Paris to the bejeweled golden bars of a Turkish palace, Brandy Purdy weaves some of history’s most compelling figures into a vivid, captivating account of two remarkable women and their extraordinary destinies.
I’ve read two previous books by Brandy Purdy —The Secrets of Lizzie Borden and The Ripper’s Wife– both of which I enjoyed immensely, so when she contacted me about Two Empresses I jumped at the opportunity to read and review it. While I knew a little about the woman (Rose) who became Josephine Bonaparte, thanks to a report I did on her back in the 5th grade, I knew absolutely nothing about her younger cousin Aimee. Both women’s stories are told in the first person POV which allows the reader to really get into their heads. More than half of the book follows Josephine who I found difficult to emphasize with at times. She’s selfish and self-centered and is willing to sleep with just about anyone who will help her attain her ambitions. There’s no mistake that she suffered horribly at times, but there were others where I felt she was her own worst enemy, particularly in regards to Napoleon. He is passionate about her at the beginning of their relationship, but because Josephine is pretty much forced into marrying him, she cheats on him immediately. When he discovers her infidelities, well, let’s just say his feelings sour and he treats her abysmally. Yet it’s then that decides she loves him. But even worse, I believe she commits an unforgivable betrayal of her innocent daughter, forcing her into a loveless marriage just to save herself. Because of this, any sympathy I had for her went right out the window. Aimee du Buc Rivery was indeed the cousin of Empress Josephine who disappeared at sea. There’s a legend that she was captured by Barbary pirates and sold to a Sultan in Constantinople and that she was the same person as Naksidil Sultan, who became a Valide Sultan (Queen Mother) of the Ottoman Empire. However there’s no hard evidence of this, and scholars have pretty much proven that the legendary Naksidil was of Georgian descent, not French. But it’s this figure that Brandy Purdy draws upon in her portrayal of Aimee, who I loved. She also suffers greatly, yet she perseveres because of her intelligence, courage, determination, and unwavering love and devotion to those she cares about. While she was almost entirely fictional, I found myself wishing that there were more chapters devoted to her. Overall, I thought Two Empresses to be an intriguing blend of fact and fiction. It’s a captivating read which reconstructs one of the most famous women in history, flaws and all, and brings to life one whose life probably ended much too soon. At the same time, she also captures the social norms and political upheavals of the time period. I definitely recommend this to readers who love historical fiction.