I have never been interested in Napoleon, nonetheless one of his wives. But I am fascinated by the French Revolution and this book centers largely around that period of time. Also, since I had very little knowledge about Rose (aka Josephine), I was intrigued. However, I did not find the novel as interesting as I had hoped.
First of all, I found Rose to be a rather dull character. Her friends and/or family are interesting, but she herself is not. The emotions of those around her come across much more strongly than any of her feelings, in my opinion. She simply did not "come alive" to me, which was proven by the fact that by the end of the book I still had no interest in looking up the factual data about her life and learning more. If I don't have that level of interest after having read about a real person in history, how good could the novel have really been in my opinion?
Also, the novel includes so very many characters that they are impossible to keep straight even if you read it within a couple days like I did. I would constantly be trying to remember who this or that person was. It rather took away from the novel for me and MANY of the characters weren't even necessary for the plot! A character listing somewhere would have been nice (my edition did not have it, although I did notice one in book 2 of the same type of edition...perhaps the author learned). Some paragraphs/diary entries felt like they were just a listing of names and titles rather than any real event. Honestly, the writing simply did not make me truly care about any of them either, which made it twice as hard to remember individuals. The author also included diary entries that I felt did not add anything to the story. The letters she received also felt the same way half of the time. Plus, what was with all the fortune telling and destiny talk? Multiple individuals had their fortunes told and, shocker, they all came true. Where are the ancestors of these true psychics?? Ugh, anyway it added a very eye-roll worthy element that just became worse the more people had their futures told.
The novel also covers the French Revolution but I never felt immersed in it, despite Rose largely being in Paris at the time. Even when Rose was in jail I did not "feel" anything from her, everything felt superficial. Michelle Moran covered the French Revolution in a much more thorough and captivating way in Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution and I felt like Gulland needed to take note on how to do the time period justice (although these books were written many years apart).
Although the title implies Napoleon will be involved, he largely isn't and only appears in the last 40 pages or so. I must say, I definitely do not like the man any more than I did going in (and I did not care for him then). The interactions between Napoleon and Rose were ridiculous and leaves me absolutely baffled as to why anyone would dare think anything about this book was romantic. Romantic? Are you kidding me?? Romance is the farthest thing from this book, from all of the affairs and illegitimate children and the black teeth and the French Revolution and beheadings. Oh boy, romantic indeed! But back to Napoleon for a quick second: although there is a Napoleon complex and short-man syndrome etc etc that always notes Napoleon, isn't he really supposed to be average for that time period? So why does Rose constantly refer to him as that "little man" and other people say similar things?
Although I had many complaints about the novel, it does appear to be well researched (although I have not verified all). I also learned an interesting take on the period and beginnings of Napoleon. I must say I do not know if I agree with the diary-entry style, it did not add much to the story for me. I cannot say the writing was top notch or the story was overly enthralling, but it was certainly a decent HF and it will receive starts befitting such a novel.