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Josephine B. Trilogy, Sandra Gulland

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Josephine B. Trilogy, Sandra Gulland

Post by LoisAnn » Mon February 9th, 2009, 6:34 pm

I recently completed the Josephine B. (Beauharnais) trilogy by Sandra Gulland. As I read the three books back to back, I have chosen to review the books as a trilogy - in fact, I think it would be rather difficult to separate the books into separate reviews - so much is one book just a third of the whole.

I strongly recommend that these books be read in order and back-to-back. Ms. Gulland does not waste much ink or the reader's time in "catching" up from one book to the other (a fact that I really appreciate!). To get full enjoyment and understanding from these books, they should be read as a whole.

The first book The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. brings our young heroine from her home on Martinique to France where she is married to Alexandre Beauharnais - the father of her two children. This book covers the Revolution, the Reign of Terror and the first stumbling blocks of a country trying to govern itself without its monarchy. The book concludes with Joesphine's marriage to Napoleon.

The second book is Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe. This book takes us through the first years of Josephine & Napoleon's marriage and concludes with the true end to the Revolution - as marked by Napoleon's successful coup against the sitting Directors and his appointment as First Consul of France.

And, lastly, The Last Great Dance on Earth, Napoleon becomes Emperor and crowns Josephine as Empress. We get a bird's-eye view of the expansive, expensive and glittering court that the Emperor establishes. We are also privy to the unbelievable greed, avarice and jealousy of those closest to Napoleon - specifically, his own family. The book concludes as only history will allow - Napoleon's great defeat and subsequent exile and with Josephine's death.

Overall rating for the trilogy is a solid 5/5. When thinking about a rating and thinking about all the things I liked about these books, there was just no reason to give it anything less! The books appear to be meticulously researched; I believe Ms. Gulland's character development, personalities, conclusions, etc. are all based on fact and rest on solid foundations. The books also contain bonus material (another real plus for me); specifically, a genealogy chart in each book, bibliography, cast of characters and reader's guide. There are also wonderful, informative footnotes scattered throughout the books that really enhance the reader's understanding and enjoyment.

Throughout the books, we get a solid picture of the strengths and weaknesses of Napoleon Bonaparte and also of the great love between him and Josephine and the special connection between them. We learn of the love Josephine had for her children and her grandchildren. We come to have a better understanding of intrigue and conspiracies both within Paris and also on the European stage during the late 1700's and early 1800's.

These books are fast reads! They scoop you up and soar you away to Josephine's world. I read the last book in just a couple of days - and although I knew I was going to be sad to finish, I could not stop myself from reading; so great was my interest. In the Acknowledgements at the end of the 3rd book, Sandra Gulland writes ... for this hasn't been an easy book to finish. It ends a decade of daily interaction with Josephine and her family, closes a curtain on a world that has become home to me. I think this sums it up quite nicely - for the reader also. Throughout the books, I was intimately caught up in Josephine's life and was reluctant to pull myself back into my world to do such normal things as go to work, or fix dinner, etc., etc.

And "intimate" is exactly the correct word. Ms. Gulland's clever and very well-done technique of telling the story through Josephine's diary entries is brilliant! We get her personal comments, feelings, fears, etc. and keep up with what's happening from the mundane to the very important. The books also contain letters written to Josephine and in this way, other characters get to speak in first person. The best, in my opinion, even better than Napoleon's letters to Josephine, are the letters from her son Eugene. We are also privy to conversations that Josephine has recorded in her journals and this is another way in which characters speak and the story is advanced.

I was actually a bit leery of this approach; was afraid reading diary entries would be too dry and lifeless ... and how wrong I was!! If this is also a concern of yours, put it aside! Au contraire, mes amis, the books are sensitive, full of life and color, and are very well-written.

And, if your reluctance to pick up these books is because they are about the French Revolution - "yuck! been there, done that with Tale of Two Cities in high school" or about Josephine - "oh, yeah, I remember her - wasn't she Napoleon's older, dried up wife who couldn't have children?" or about Napoleon - "are you kidding me? That power-hungry, despot who ended up a failure at Waterloo?" then I implore you to take another look at this trilogy.

The books are about the French Revolution, they are about Josephine, they are about Napoleon ... but they are also so much more than that. They are about a fascinating and critical period of French & European history and are well worth the time and effort to read them! Reading them and putting them into historical context, I wonder what France would have become without Napoleon; and what Napoleon would have been (or not been) without Josephine.

This trilogy is definitely and highly recommended!
Last edited by LoisAnn on Tue February 10th, 2009, 2:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
I've never known any trouble that an hour's reading didn't assuage. ~ Charles de Secondat

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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Tue February 10th, 2009, 11:21 am

Great review. I wholeheartedly agree with your every word. I was equally swept away by these books and also read them back to back (several years ago). I told Sandra (on another forum) that I blamed her for making me miss my stop on a number of occasions.

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Post by diamondlil » Tue February 10th, 2009, 11:35 am

This was a very good trilogy. I will post my reviews of these books in the next few days.
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Post by EC2 » Tue February 10th, 2009, 11:43 am

I read the first one and quite enjoyed it but wasn't swept away. The other two await on my TBR, but not near the top. My sister in law thought they were fantastic though - jsut about raved my ear off!
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal


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Post by LCW » Wed February 11th, 2009, 12:27 am

I've got all three here to read but haven't gotten to them yet! I think I'll like them though from what I've read and heard.
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them. --Arnold Lobel

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Post by boswellbaxter » Wed February 11th, 2009, 12:51 am

I thought all three were excellent. Often the diary form feels contrived, but I didn't find that at all the case here.
Susan Higginbotham
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Post by princess garnet » Wed February 11th, 2009, 5:09 pm

I own a boxed trilogy of the series. Loved it! :)

Also I did a review of this on the old HF site.

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Post by Lucy » Thu February 12th, 2009, 2:56 pm

Hi! What a great review! I absolutely loved this trilogy, and must say that the last book in particular, was fantastic -I just didn't want it to finish. If you'd like to read my review, you can check it out at my site: www.enchantedbyjosephine.blogspot.com

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Post by LoisAnn » Fri February 13th, 2009, 2:18 pm

[quote=""Lucy""]If you'd like to read my review, you can check it out at my site: www.enchantedbyjosephine.blogspot.com
:) [/quote]

Lucy - I did, indeed, read your review and spent way too much time browsing about your blog! Great review & great blog - I love all the pictures you use to illustrate your blog entries - such fun!

Welcome to the forum, by the way!! It is probably only fitting that your first post is about Josephine! Be sure to introduce yourself in the thread for new members ...
Last edited by LoisAnn on Fri February 13th, 2009, 2:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I've never known any trouble that an hour's reading didn't assuage. ~ Charles de Secondat

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