Monday, February 6, 2017

REVIEW: Two Empresses by Brandy Purdy

Two Empresses
by Brandy Purdy

Publisher: Kensington
Page Count: 384
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Format: Kindle ARC

How got: ARC from NetGalley

First attention getter: synopsis

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

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.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 2

My introduction to this author, this book stood out as hard to finish and left a bad taste in my mouth. The only thing the author got right, for the most part, was the scene setting and a bit on one characterization. Beyond that, I hope this book isn't an example of what I can expect from other works by this writer. If so, I think I'll skip those.

One area the author excelled, again for the most part, was the scene setting and historical details. Tropical Martinique, revolutionary Paris, and exotic Istanbul all stand out as unique settings. Lush with details and vivid descriptions, I could easily see the scenes portrayed and enjoy the background at least.

However, even here the author has an issue. There were times where her settings came off as almost comical and caricatures of the real thing. Maybe she was trying too hard at description, but it backfired on her. Revolutionary Paris, at times, seemed way too sexualized. Some of the descriptions of Josephine's experiences between marrying Napoleon and losing her first husband are comical to say the least, though I don't think the author meant it to be. Maybe her portrayals have some basis in historical fact; I’m not a historian for the time. However, her portrayals didn't come over as fact.

The author also has a problem with the Sultans court and his harem in Istanbul. Again, the scenes come off as caricatures and stereotypes of the real thing. I mean, Aimee's story comes right out of Arabian nights! The way the harem women dressed/acted, the details of daily life, and just the overall atmosphere seemed unreal. Again, I am not a scholar for this time or locale, so maybe the author had some basis for her portrayals. But if so, that didn't come across on the page.

And then there are the characterizations. I'm sorry to say that Josephine is shallow, vapid, has no common sense, and is a slut, not a descriptor that I like to use but fits the bill here. Every action Josephine takes is motivated for her own self-preservation or to make her life easier. Her portrayal makes her unsympathetic in the extreme. While maybe realistic to a degree, Josephine made me hate her more than empathize with her.

Aimee is kinda the opposite. Showing at least some intelligence, her character is far more sympathetic than Josephine’s. However, there's only a slight improvement. Aimee, unfortunately, goes to the other extreme of the character spectrum. She's too perfect! And until the very end, she's a freaking doormat. She doesn't actually do anything, the events of the story happened to her. She just sits there and either observes or just reacts. However, at least at the end, she did something proactive. That saved her storyline for me.

And then, to add one more stick to this fire pile of horror, the author completely screwed up her story balance. One of the things that first drew me to this title was the tale of two women caught up in the flow of history and how they made their way to places of power in different societies.

Well, this book isn’t about that. This book is about Josephine with a few side chapters about Aimee. A shame as, of the two, Aimee is easily the more enjoyable of a character. So much time is spent on Josephine’s story that Aimee is left on the wayside. I feel that if more time had been spent on Aimee’s tale, she might not have been as much of a doormat as she was; she might've had more time to actually do something. We would have gotten a fascinating tale of survival and harem politics rather than the sexcapades of Josephine. Missed opportunity there, author.

As you can see, my ultimate emotion with this title was disappointment. I had high hopes of a tale rife with excitement and exploring two women, one of whom have been lost to history. What I got was a messy soup of over-the-top historical scenes, extreme and unenjoyable characterizations, and a story balance that was a disservice to both women. If this is an example of the author’s usual writing, I don't think I'll be hunting out her other books immediately. There are better offers out there. Maybe this is just a low point; I'll let you be the judge. Yet, I wouldn't recommend this author off this book alone.

Note: Book was received for free from the publisher via Netgallery in exchange for an honest review.

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