Eliza Monroe-daughter of the future president of the United States-is devastated when her mother decides to send her to boarding school outside of Paris. But the young American teen is quickly reconciled to the idea when-ooh, la-la!-she discovers who her fellow pupils will be: Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte; and Caroline Bonaparte, youngest sister of the famous French general. It doesn’t take long for Eliza to figure out that the two French girls are mortal enemies—and that she’s about to get caught in the middle of their schemes.
Loosely drawn from history, Eliza Monroe’s imagined coming of age provides a scintillating glimpse into the lives, loves, and hopes of three young women during one of the most volatile periods in French history.
Eliza Monroe, a native of Virginia, has been sent to Paris for a year to attend Saint Germaine, a prestigious boarding school for well-to-do young ladies. There, she is expected to study and learn the fashion and character attributes of the French. She is a bit put-out by her parents’ decision until she learns that she is to be associated with Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte, and Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s little sister. Exciting as that may be, she soon learns that Hortense and Caroline, despite family ties, are enemies.
Caroline and her family believe that Napoleon could have married younger, wealthier and better, and despise both Josephine and Hortense for the ill-fated match. Hortense is the level-headed of the two, and though she fatigues of the constant torment, she does not allow herself to fall to Caroline’s level. Eliza is understandably torn between the two, longing to be adventurous and daring like Caroline, and sweet and sophisticated like Hortense.
Both Hortense and Caroline have secrets, which they confide to Eliza. Caroline is in love with Murat, a close confidant of her brother, Napoleon. Unfortunately, her brother does not support the match, and Caroline graduates to desperate measures to be with Murat, including sneaking out of the school and parading as a boy soldier to be near him. Meanwhile, Hortense just wants to be free to pursue and marry the boy she has fallen in love with, the son of her music teacher, of whom her mother would surely disapprove.
During a week-long stay with Caroline and Hortense at the Bonaparte’s home, Eliza eventually meets and develops a crush on Hortense’s brother, Eugene. However, Eugene barely notices Eliza’s existence, because he is secretly in love with Madeleine, the daughter of an abusive, egotistical actress, whom he has promised to take away and marry.
Throw in a skirmish between Napoleon’s men and the current government, a shocking death, numerous declarations of love, and a bit of scandal, and you’re hooked.
Such drama! Such intrigue!
The Académie is narrated by Eliza, Hortense, and Madeleine. While it was interesting to see how things played out from the different points-of-view, I found that the “voice” of each character could have been more consistent, especially Madeleine’s. At first, she’s this meek, put-upon, frail bird of a girl, and towards the end she turns into a brash, cunning and seemingly violent woman. This did make for quite an interesting twist, but I didn’t think it was necessary. I think my favorite character was Hortense, followed closely by Eliza. Caroline had absolutely no redeeming qualities as a character. What a snot!
It was interesting to note the stages of maturity and growth (or lack thereof) for each girl. For example, Hortense was almost the pinnacle of maturity from the start. She was generous, understanding and honest, if a little naive. She wanted to make her own decisions about her love life, and life in general, but was generally aligned with the notion that her mother would make a match for her. Eliza experienced the most growth as a character, particularly in regard to the equality of all people, as her family in Virginia still owned slaves. Caroline grew and matured the least. Right up to the end, she was spiteful, conniving and selfish. She played nice a few times with Hortense, but only when it suited her current needs.
The setting of The Académie was the real crowning achievement of author, Susanne Dunlap. I believe she really captured the essence of 1799 Paris, both socially and economically. The period was certainly represented well, which I believe most history buffs will appreciate. I will warn you though, dear reader, that the pacing of the novel was a bit jarring at times. It would speed up, then slow down, and speed up again. I found myself checking to see how much longer I had until the book was finished.
The ending was slightly disappointing, but given that Susanne Dunlap based much of the story off true events, I suppose there really was no other ending it could have had. It wasa realistic ending nonetheless, whether fictional or no, because not everyone’s dreams came true, and not everyone lived “happily ever after”. If you’re looking for that type of Historical Fiction novel, you may want to look elsewhere.
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Académie. I really love Historical Fiction and thought that this book provided a great break from the dystopian novels I’ve been reading lately, which tend to be a bit depressing. I wish there had been a bit more consistency between the characters and pacing; however, I particularly enjoyed reading more about post-revolutionary France and appreciated Susanne Dunlap’s attention to detail.
I would recommend borrowing this book from the library or a friend first, before deciding to commit to it. The Académie did not blow me away, but you may love it, especially if you’re a history buff.
Have you read The Académie? What did you think?
If you haven’t read it, does it sound like a story that would interest you?
I would like to extend a big “thank you” to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for approving me for the eGalley of The Académieon NetGalley. I appreciate it! 🙂