Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review: Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

Release Date: December 31, 2013
Publisher: Plume 
Pages: 320
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

A sweeping historical debut about the Creole socialite who transformed herself into an empress

Readers are fascinated with the wives of famous men. In Becoming Josephine, debut novelist Heather Webb follows Rose Tascher as she sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris, eager to enjoy an elegant life at the royal court. Once there, however, Rose’s aristocratic soldier-husband dashes her dreams by abandoning her amid the tumult of the French Revolution. After narrowly escaping death, Rose reinvents herself as Josephine, a beautiful socialite wooed by an awkward suitor—Napoleon Bonaparte.


She may be getting sleepover party invites, but not from me!

Well, that was disappointing.

Becoming Josephine was my first attempt at getting to know Josephine on her own terms and not through a general history of the time, Napoleonic readings, and stories from the British perspective (which, granted, have always been understandably biased against old Boney and co.).

My gosh, I don't know if it was me, Heather Webb's portrayal, or Josephine herself, but it was a trial reading through 320 pages of that vapid harpy's drivel (and by "vapid harpy" I mean Josephine, NOT Heather Webb).

Josephine spent much of the book whoring her way through France's wealthiest men. And I mean that pretty much literally. She took men as her lovers with the mutual understanding that they did not love one another but he would provide her with the wealthy lifestyle she wanted because, hey, she was a looker.

But that's ok! I mean, I understand woman had different options back then. Plus, it's not like Josephine didn't have other totally redeemable qualities to make me like her, right? Right?

Well, no, not really.

She was a nag. And a limp dish rag. Her thoughts on the bloody life-changing revolution were to comment on how the revolutionary fashions were SO drab. She was flighty and dull.

She constantly talked about how she was a total saint of a lady, always pitying the poor and those wrongly accused by revolutionaries (why were the revolutionaries in the wrong? Well, because their prisoners were her friends! Not because she actually had political opinions). Instead of making me like her, all this do-gooder talk just made her sound like she was Mary-Suing herself.

THAT's the story you're going with?

A big reason I read historical fiction is because I want to take the lazy way out and get non-fiction info in an exciting fiction package. So, even though I know I'm reading fiction, I want the historical details to be accurate.

Yeah, that wasn't happening here.

Most of my Napoleon education comes from the British perspective, and they were not exactly his biggest fan. Despite that, you could still get the impression he was viewed as a worthy foe. He would have to be! He was NAPOLEON for crying out loud! Flawed to be sure, and I'm by no means fist-pumping his actions, but the man had skills.

He rose from a relative nobody to the leader of a nation who had just overthrown their monarchs, and then went on to build an empire across Europe. All in a relatively short period of time. And, with all sorts of scary secret dealings going on behind the scenes to bring about his rapid rise of which we still don't know the details!

Until now! Now, Heather Webb has answered that mystery with, ready for it? JOSEPHINE!

Yes, it was all Josephine.

Napoleon was a whiny, sulky, greasy, socially incompetent ninny and it was only thanks to Josephine's sweet diplomatic skills (you can add air quotes around that if you'd like) that he was able to gain allies, secure power, build an empire of awesome, and conduct himself appropriately in public. 

SERIOUSLY? Apparently so.

Add in a slave revolt with embarrassingly anachronistic motivations and I seriously doubt the veracity of anything more than the broad strokes of the confirmed-by-history events.

Not that I was treated to an abundance of details anyway. We were too busy wooing cardboard cutout men to delve too deeply into politics (ugh SUCH a waste! Josephine had front row seats to some of the most interesting political actions of the time!)

Bottom line

Well, that was disappointing. 

I've tossed in an extra half star on the chance that part of my dislike may stem from Josephine just not being a great person and not something Heather Webb can be held accountable for. I'll have to read Sandra Gulland's much praised Josephine trilogy to compare.

This is a standalone.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Becoming Josephine that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.


  1. How disappointing! Just based off of the synopsis, this one sounds so promising. But I'm the same as you--if I don't know a lot about a historical period (or even if I do), I like to read historical fiction because (let's be real) who wouldn't rather read an exciting take on history than a dry non-fiction account? You hit the nail on the head, though--it has to be historically accurate for it to work! It sounds like this will be a pass for me.

    1. I know! I was really looking forward to it based on the synopsis. I know many readers don't mind historical inaccuracies because it IS technically fiction, and I think this book will resonate with them, but it's not for me. I'm wiht you, it needs to be historically accurate for it to work with me.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I think I've seen this one before. No surprise there. They never have the ones which sound brilliant.

    1. haha yes, I feel the same way! My library has a lot of great books, but never the ones I'm really searching for!

  4. Dude that sounds bad!
    I mean, Napoleon was not a ninny - greasy and sulky, maybe, but not a ninny. You don't command the kind of respect he did among his men if you're a total putz.

    Josephine sounds like someone I wouldn't like at all.

    Hope your next book is loads better

    1. "You don't command the kind of respect he did among his men if you're a total putz." YES! Exactly! This was my main issue with it. I can't believe that THIS Napoleon could do the things I know the real Napoleon did.

  5. "A big reason I read historical fiction is because I want to take the lazy way out and get non-fiction info in an exciting fiction package." Yes, this is a huge reason why I read historical fiction too :) I actually have no idea who Josephine is but it's annoying to find out that Napolean "apparently" only rose to greatness because of her diplomatic skills. I call bullshit.

    1. Josephine was Napoleon's first wife. I've heard really great things about that other trilogy about her that I mentioned, so I'm hoping I like it a lot more. There's so much history surrounding her. But, yep, I have to call BS on that claim, too.

  6. Yeah, this one doesn't sound like its for me. It sounds boring, just like my preconceived notion of historical fiction would be.


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