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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

ARC Review: Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenberg



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

With its delightful adaptation of Napoleon Bonaparte's real attempt to write a novel, Finding Napoleon offers a fresh take on Europe's most powerful man after he's lost everything. A forgotten woman of history--Napoleon's last love, the audacious Albine de Montholon--narrates their tale of intrigue, passion, and betrayal.

After the defeated Emperor Napoleon goes into exile on tiny St. Helena Island in the remote South Atlantic, he and his lover, Albine de Montholon, plot to escape and rescue his young son. Banding together African slaves, British sympathizers, a Jewish merchant, a Corsican rogue, and French followers, they confront British opposition--as well as treachery within their own ranks--with sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, but always desperate action.
When Napoleon and Albine break faith with one another, ambition and Albine's husband threaten their reconciliation. To succeed, Napoleon must learn whom to trust. To survive, Albine must decide whom to betray.

Two hundred years after Napoleon's death, this elegant, richly researched novel reveals a relationship history conceals.

Review:

I was approached by the publisher to review this book.  Being a fan of historical fiction, I readily agreed.  I don't really know much about Napoleon other than he lost the battle of Waterloo and was exiled after he lost.  But there is so much more to this man and his escapades,  The author, Margaret Rodenberg, really knows how to bring historical figures to life, and comes up with a suspenseful story.  The amount of historical detail in this book is impressive. I only wish that the characters were people I could find more sympathy with.  Mostly, it was rather sad how Napoleon, and his hangers-on, were stuck trying to return to their glory days, rather than accept their fate and find peace.

What I Liked:

Historical Details:

The amount of research that the author did was truly amazing.  She even traveled to the remote island of St. Helena, in the South Atlantic, where Napoleon was exiled for a second time.  From the clothing, to the food, to how goods were bartered on the island, the novel was rich in details.

I also found it fascinating that Rodenberg was able to incorporate the unfinished novel that Napoleon, himself, wrote as a young man.  It was a smart device to show aspects of Napoleon's own formative years.  Both Clisson, the character in Napoleon's novel and young Napoleon himself, were from the island of Corsica, which had a profound impact on their lives.  Napoleon is often portrayed as feeling inferior, and I'm sure that being from Corsica, he was dismissed as an uncivilized person by the French.  You can see that the author was making the point that this had a deep impact on Napoleon's life.

The book has an extensive section, at the end of the book, that details who all the real life characters were, along with background information for readers (like myself) who aren't experts in European history.  This was much appreciated.

Story:

Even though I knew the outcome of the book (spoiler: Napoleon never leaves St. Helena), I found all the various plots he concocted to leave were quite compelling.  With his charisma and intellect, Napoleon manages to find ways to get messages out to the world, and get information about his family back to him.  He even finds ways to convince people to help him escape.  

But there was also a rather sad component to the plot.  Napoleon was rather like a fading rock star (or former politician...).  Everyone who stays with him in exile wants something from him.  They're really only with him because they are infatuated with his fame, they think he will reward their loyalty when he comes back into power, or they have no other place to go.  Even though he is surrounded by "Yes" men, he is very much alone.

What I Was Mixed About:

Characters:

There were no empathetic characters in this novel, aside from Napoleon himself.  The narration moves between Napoleon, and his lover, Albine de Montholon.  Although the novel does show that she had very few options as a woman in that era, I found Albine to be too calculating, and selfish.  She is constantly scheming to become Napoleon's lover so she can influence him.  She always thinks she's smarter than everyone else with her plots, and feels she's hit the jackpot when she becomes pregnant with Napoleon's child.  I might have had more sympathy with Albine if the author had shown more of her background,  I'm sure she had a difficult life.  But she never seemed to feel any kind of love for anyone other than herself.


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  April 6th, 2021

Author:  Margaret Rodenberg

Publisher:  She Writes Press

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  358 Pages

Source:  Publisher

Format:  Paperback

Recommendation:  A lush historical novel of the waning years of Napoleon in exile.  While you won't find anyone you can cheer on, you will find the plot suspenseful, and the historical details superb.

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