Based on a true story, this novel describes the events surrounding Maximilian’s time as emperor of Mexico in the 1860’s. With his wife Carlotta, the emperor rules the unstable country amidst intrigues from Napoleon’s military machine that have been sent to Mexico to keep the peace and support Maximilian. The military’s biggest challenge is dealing with the Juarista’s, rebel Mexican fighters trying to take back their country from the emperor and the French occupation.
Into this turbulence falls Augustin de Iturbide y Green, a baby born to Angelo de Iturbide, the son of a former Mexican ruler. With his wife, Alice Green, and extended family, Angelo tries to live a quiet life. But that doesn’t last long as Maximilian, looking to provide himself with an heir arranges to adopt baby Augustin. Promising money and titles, Maximilian convinces Augustin’s family leave for Paris where they will live in comfort. It is not long, however, before Alice and Angelo feel they’ve made a big mistake and attempt to get their son back.
I received this book through the LibraryThing early review programe based on the book’s title and description. It sounded fascinating and it was, but there were a couple of things that bothered me. First, I was confused about who was on whose side and the subtleties of connections between characters escaped me. If I’d known a bit more about the history of that era, I think it would’ve helped a great deal. Another thing was the switching of perspectives between characters. We would have Alice’s take on what was happening, then Pepa’s (Angelo’s sister), then Maximilian’s and even little Augustin’s. That was the worst part for me. I didn’t like reading the story from the perspective of a toddler and didn’t think it worked as a story device. Thankfully there was little of that.. What I thought was missing most was more perspective of Alice’s character. We know she gave her son up because it seemed a wise course of action: he would be well cared for, have the sort of education that only the emperor could provide, and fulfill his destiny as a future leader of Mexico. As young as she was, Alice comes off as a spoiled young woman who does not yet realize the consequences of her actions and it’s difficult to like this character. I think reading more of Alice’s thoughts and feelings would’ve helped with that.
That is what I didn’t like about the book but there is much I did like. The mores of the times were fascinating as well as the background story of the empress Carlotta. I also enjoyed the character of Pepa, Angelo’s sister and most importantly godmother to little Augustin and his guardian while under Maximilian’s tutelage. Her maneuvering, scheming and manipulation of the family’s situation was perfectly depicted.
The book was well written and carefully researched It was fun to do a bit of research of my own after I finished reading the book and finding different viewpoints than the ones presented in the novel. It also made the historical aspects of Mexico during that time coalesce in my mind and I liked it for that too.
I’d recommend this novel to anyone who is curious about Maximilian, Mexico and the Mexican culture.