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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Empress by Laura Martinez-Belli

In the story of tragic Carlota, each turn of events was more ill-fated and darker than the next, all barreling toward ruin and destruction.

It's 1863, and Princess Charlotte, called Empress Carlota by the people, is behind the scenes in Mexico running things for Napoleon III alongside her philandering, frivolous husband Maximilian von Habsburg of Austria. Carlota and Maximilian are meant to squash Juarez's Mexican regime on Napoleon's behalf and establish a stronghold of European rule.

Carlota is smart, savvy, hardworking, and she loves her adopted country of Mexico--the landscape, the language, the foods, the people, and the rhythm of life there. But men are maddeningly following their own whims and wielding the power here as they are everywhere in the world at this time, and Carlota keeps getting her legs swept out from beneath her by the foolish, proud, greedy males in charge.

The rulers and their doomed colonialism aren't welcome, and Carlota trusts those she shouldn't. Her brother in Belgium, her husband, her trusted ladies of the court--all are betraying her in one way or another, and one unmitigated disaster after another is beginning to snowball toward a horrific end to the Europeans' Mexican experiment.

Carlota and Maximilian each begin ill-advised, passionate affairs outside of their loveless marriage--thereby opening themselves up to enormous vulnerabilities, intertwining their own tenuous fates with the shaky future of the kingdom, and potentially laying the groundwork for the destruction of their many ambitious plans.

I think the shifting back and forth in time could have felt jumpy, but it worked well for the story's pacing. I didn't feel emotionally tied to the players, and each turn of events was more ill-fated and darker than the next, all barreling toward ruin and destruction. The story of tragic Carlota was interesting but tough to read because of the increasingly cataclysmal goings-on.

Any Bossy thoughts on this book?

Martinez-Belli is a bestselling author in Mexico; this is her English-language debut.

I received a prepublication copy of this book through Amazon Crossing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I mentioned this book (along with The Fighting Bunch and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue) in the Greedy Reading List Three Books I'm Reading Now, 12/2/20 Edition.


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