Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe is the much-awaited sequel to Sandra Gulland’s highly acclaimed first novel, The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. Beginning in Paris in 1796, the saga continues as Josephine awakens to her new life as Mrs. Napoleon Bonaparte. Through her intimate diary entries and Napoleon’s impassioned love letters, an astonishing portrait of an incredible woman emerges. Gulland transports us into the ballrooms and bedrooms of exquisite palaces and onto the blood-soaked fields of Napoleon’s campaigns. As Napoleon marches to power, we witness, through Josephine, the political intrigues and personal betrayals — both sexual and psychological — that result in death, ruin, and victory for those closest to her.
After hearing about her incredible early years, in Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe focuses on Josephine’s most well-known years. And although she has gained a sort of infamous reputation from her supposedly numerous affairs while Bonaparte was in Egypt, this is not the way Sandra Gulland portrays her. You know what? This portrayal feels much more real, more authentic than the typical ‘immortal cheating harlot’ angle that Josephine is always portrayed from. In Gulland’s portrayal, we get to see how Josephine gradually does begin to care for Napoleon, how she soothes over the men in power so her husband may succeed and how she does her best to take care of her only two children by her first husband.
Although I think pacing isn’t as important in historical fiction, this second book in the Josephine B. trilogy is more fast-paced than the first. Perhaps it’s because I actually know a little about the events that occur in the novel or perhaps it’s because it was Gulland’s second book and she got a better feel for pacing. Who knows? All I know is that the pacing and even the quality of writing, which was already high, has improved.
Not only does Josephine come off as an incredibly strong woman, the other characters in the novel really popped out of the pages as well. Napoleon Bonaparte is portrayed in many different ways in movie, television and books but I’ve never really seen this portrayal of him: the awkward, graceless (yet handsome) Corsican who has no time for the nonsense of high society and who is oddly paranoid about poisoning. Having him around is a huge contrast to Josephine, who is graceful and takes to high society, even if she isn’t comfortable with it deep down. Bonaparte’s bizarre, ruthless family definitely doesn’t make it easy on poor Josephine or even Bonaparte himself! Having them around definitely added drama, but it’s not like they were the stereotypically evil in-laws because they had depth. They had real reasons for their actions, thank goodness.
I give this book 5/5 stars.