Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: Two Empresses by Brandy Purdy

Publisher: Kensington 
Pub. Date: January 31st, 2017
Pages: 384

Genre: Historical Fiction


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 Beauharnais. 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.

What Did I Think About the Story?

If you enjoy historical fiction, or just history in general, as much as I do, then you most likely have at least heard of Napoleon Bonaparte's first wife, Josephine. However if, again like me, you haven't delved much into her early life you might not know the unique background she comes from or the quite interesting tale of what possibly became of her cousin, Aimee. Brandy Purdy's newest novel, Two Empresses, seeks to let both of these young women tell their own stories as the fate laid out for them by a voodoo priestess as children unfolds for the reader to witness. 

The story begins with both Rose (who will later be known as Josephine) and Aimee (who will later be known as Nakshidil) going to meet with a voodoo priestess on their island home of Martinique as young girls. From there the story actually splits into two stories - that of Rose and that of Aimee - and the two girls never cross paths again and only rarely even seem to think about each other. This threw me somewhat as I assumed this was a story about the two cousins while it ended up being more of two separate stories connected loosely by similar themes, but I did enjoy trying to decipher what those similarities were and where the two women's lives took very different paths.

I have to admit that I wasn't a big fan of Rose/Josephine. While her portion of Two Empresses gives the reader a very interesting viewpoint from which to view the turbulence and bloodshed of the French Revolution, she herself came across as quite selfish and vacillating. I found myself getting somewhat bored with her attention to fashion and bawdy behavior and wished for more depth from her character. 

On the other hand, Aimee/Nakshidil was a very sympathetic character and I very much enjoyed watching her strong will to survive in a world so vastly different from the one she was born into and into which she made such a mark on the development of the customs. When the story concluded I was disappointed to not see an author's note explaining what portions of Aimee's story were factual and which were fiction (I read an advanced readers copy so this might be included in the final printing), however, upon further research, I discovered that many believe, as Rose and her family do in Two Empresses, that Aimee actually drowned at sea and that much of what is discussed in this story, namely her being kidnapped by pirates, being sold into the harem of Abdul Hamid, and being the adopted mother of the future Sultan Mahmud II, is widely believed to be legend. While I don't have a problem at all with historical fiction being written around a legend I do prefer an author's note to explain fact from fiction and found it somewhat odd for this very fictionalized story of Aimee to be combined with what I believe is a much more fact based story about Rose/Josephine. 

Where I think Ms. Purdy really shines is in her ability to bring a setting to life. The shifting settings in which these two women live - from the island paradise of  Martinique to dank and putrid prison cells and pirate ships to lavish and colorful ballrooms and harems - is vividly presented and described in such intricate detail that nothing is missed, not even the smallest trinket on a table. I love being fully immersed in the worlds of the characters I read and it is impossible to not fully see, smell, hear, and taste the worlds of these women.

Two Empresses is a unique dual story of two cousins who go on to live extraordinary lives. While they will both end up in two very different worlds, they nonetheless share so much in common: they are both made to change their very names and become wholly new people to survive; they both find - and lose - love in unexpected places; and they both love their children fiercely and do whatever they can to try and make the best life possible for those children. While I found some aspects of the story a little odd, overall I very much enjoyed learning more about these two women and seeing the extreme highs and lows they both had to endure. This novel is not the first of Brandy Purdy's I've read and will definitely not be the last either!

What Did I Think About the Cover?

I think it fits the story very well, although the clothes seem somewhat costume-y. I do like that the designer included quite a bit of detail from the story into the design, such as the hair color of each woman, the overall style of the clothes they each would have worn, etc. Overall a very nice cover.

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

I received a free copy of Two Empresses from author Brandy Purdy in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Brandy! All opinions are my own. Click on Brandy's name above to be directed to her website to learn more about her and her books. You can also find more information about Two Empresses, including other reviews and links to where you can purchase a copy, on Goodreads HERE.