The Empress – by Laura Martínez-Belli – independent book review – Historical Fiction (Mexico)

Although I tried and tried, I was unable to finish this novel. Awarded three stars on Goodreads, which I consider a gift, awarded simply because I only read part of the narrative and it’s possible all the interesting parts were in the sections I skimmed or skipped.

How can you make historical fiction about a minor royal who becomes Empress of Mexico and then “goes mad” boring? Here’s how I think Laura Martínez-Belli did it:
• First, randomly rearrange all the chapters so that the timeline is confusing and the action hard to follow.
• Second, promise a story about an interesting, powerful, and privileged 19th century Queen and then bury that human story amid a bunch of dry political wrangling between liberals and conservatives fighting for power.
• Third, include so many characters that it becomes difficult to remember who’s who.

Empress Carlota (born Charlotte of Belgium), the chief protagonist, remains an interesting figure to me. Did she go mad or just not conform to the era’s expectations about how women should behave? Was her husband Maximilian I as useless as is portrayed in THE EMPRESS? Was their rule doomed to fail? The answers to all three of these questions: the book did not make me care enough to find out.

More about the author, Laura Martínez-Belli.

More about the translator, Simon Bruni.

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