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Home » Books » Children's » Historical Fiction » Biographical » European

Betsy and the Emperor

By Staton Rabin

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Format: Paperback, 294 pages
Other Information: Illustrated
Published In: USA, 01 March 2006

Product Description:

Gr. 6-9. Fourteen-year-old Betsy Balcombe feels as much a prisoner of remote, rocky St. Helena as Napoleon Bonaparte, who spends part of his island exile quartered in the Balcombe family's guesthouse. Napoleon instantly recognises a kindred spirit in the restless Betsy, and soon the unlikely companions are racing horses, playing whist, and practising waltz steps. All this is pure embroidery, right. Au contraire, says first-time novelist Rabin; the friendship is documented. Unfortunately, the story's invented dramatic centre is far-fetched, and how and why the protagonists forged such an unusual bond, one that flew in the face of not only nationalistic inclinations but also nineteenth-century propriety (though Rabin pointedly keeps things platonic), never becomes clear. Readers will almost certainly find themselves trolling the library and the Internet for more information and seeking out Betsy's autobiography, which curiously Rabin says she did not read. Devotees of Ann Rinaldi's novels and series such as the Royal Diaries, which offer a similar mix of facts and girl-powered fiction, will find Betsy's brush with a historical leviathan especially appealing. Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Rabin (Casey Over There) takes the inspiration for her entertaining if far-fetched account of Napoleon Bonaparte's final years from the life of a real British 14-year-old, Betsy Balcombe. The story begins in the fall of 1815, as the defeated French emperor lands on St. Helena, an island off the African coast or, as Betsy puts it, a "miserable wart on the face of the deep." Technically a prisoner of war, "Boney" is housed temporarily on the Balcombe estate, where he and Betsy strike up a nearly instantaneous friendship. Betsy is more Hollywood heroine than girl of her time-she escapes her bedroom by climbing down a vine, and doesn't blush when Bonaparte "hold[s] court from his bath." (She notes his resemblance to "steamed potato dumplings.") The portrait of Bonaparte borders on hagiography. He may have struck terror on the continent, but in exile he tells jokes and loans the family jewels to Betsy for a party. The man even psychoanalyzes his own complex (middle child, teased at school for his Corsican accent and, well, the height thing). The author dresses the set with Haitian slaves, yam farmers and a few mentions of King George and the Duke of Wellington, but this is not meant to be an aid for studying French political history. A light read for those who like their lessons served with a large dollop of froth. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Gr 5-9-Betsy Balcombe has just returned to her remote island home of St. Helena from boarding school in London. At 14, she is a headstrong, adventure-seeking young lady. She gamely faces the challenge of playing host to Napoleon Bonaparte, who is exiled on the forbidding island after his capture at Waterloo. The only member of her family who is not timid around the former emperor of France, Betsy strikes up an unlikely friendship with "Boney" that surprises both of them. Rabin presents an interesting and intimate look at the life of one of history's most famous men. The relationship between Betsy and Napoleon is well captured and satisfying, and the historical details are well researched. However, some of the plot seems improbable, such as when Betsy watches her brothers' tutor die in a horrible accident that is partly her fault, only to be dancing and flirting at a ball a few days later. Still, this daredevil protagonist engages in many thrilling escapades, from a hot-air balloon flight to a horserace. An author's note fills in some of the details about the real Betsy Balcombe.-Anna M. Nelson, Seabrook Library, NH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Fascinating...." -- Kirkus Reviews "An interesting and intimate look at the life of one of history's most famous men." -- School Library Journal "Fascinating...." -- "Kirkus Reviews" "Fascinating...." -- "Kirkus Reviews" "Fascinating...." -- "Kirkus Reviews"

EAN: 9781416913368
ISBN: 141691336X
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Dimensions: 17.78 x 10.72 x 2.01 centimetres (0.16 kg)
Age Range: 10-14 years
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