Book Review:  Great Historical Fiction About An Improbable But True Story

Publication date:  February 2020book

Review, short version:  Four roses out of four.

Review, long version:

It’s likely that you’ve heard of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821).

He’s been lionized, criticized, caricatured, adored, loathed, and written about for more than 200 years.

Allison Pataki’s The Queen’s Fortune is not about Napoleon, but about a woman who loved him and was loved by him, then betrayed by him, and who survived that heartbreak to go on to live an amazing life.

French King Louis XVI was executed by guillotine in January 1793; his wife, Queen Marie-Antoinette, would follow him to the guillotine October.

She was Desiree Clary, a French girl who meets Napoleone Buonoparte – as he spelled his name then – in 1794 when she’s 16.  The French Revolution had ravaged the country, the government was in shambles, aristocrats were dying daily on the guillotine, and Buonoparte was ready to make his mark on France – and the world.

Before he does that, he makes his mark on Desiree, declaring his eternal love and promising they’ll marry.

They don’t.

But Buonoparte – now Bonaparte – did lead France in a series of military victories, rose through the ranks, was adored by millions of French people, and eventually became Emperor of the French.

In the meantime, Desiree falls in love again, this time with a man who – improbable but true – will make her his queen.

napoleon_01 larger Desiree_Clary smaller bernadotte
Desiree and the men who loved her:  Napoleon Bonaparte (left) and…read The Queen’s Fortune to find out!

There’s a lot of history in The Queen’s Fortune because Desiree’s life was so entwined with Bonaparte’s and other leading figures of the day.  But that history never overwhelms because we’re learning it from Desiree’s perspective, and it’s fascinating because she had a front row seat.

desiree queen
Desiree, now Queen Desideria.

The book is fiction, so some of what Desiree thinks and says is the author’s creation, an opportunity to “imagine and explore the emotional truths located therein, to consider how the important events of her story might have felt,” as Pataki says in her Author’s Note.  Pataki was committed to making Desiree “the leading lady of her own story,” and she succeeded.

The Queen’s Fortune was easy to read, enjoy and learn from, and it held my interest right to the end of Desiree’s life, at the almost-unheard-of age of 83.

The dynasty Desiree and her husband founded still rules their adoptive country.

Inspired by the book and just for fun, I decided to watch the 1954 movie Desiree, based on an earlier book about her, the 1951 best-seller Désirée by Annemarie Selinko.

Among the star-studded cast is…wait for it…Marlon Brando – as Bonaparte!

Marlon bad boy cropped smaller Marlon_02

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