Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Betsy and the Emperor
  • Alternative view 1 of Betsy and the Emperor
  • Alternative view 2 of Betsy and the Emperor

Betsy and the Emperor

4.7 10
by Staton Rabin

See All Formats & Editions

"Think, my dear — just think what it will be like, to be known as the girl who freed the great Napoleon Bonaparte!"

Fourteen-year-old English girl Betsy Balcombe and her family have an unusual houseguest: Napoleon Bonaparte, former emperor of France and the most feared man on earth. Once lord and master to eighty-two million souls, now, in 1815,


"Think, my dear — just think what it will be like, to be known as the girl who freed the great Napoleon Bonaparte!"

Fourteen-year-old English girl Betsy Balcombe and her family have an unusual houseguest: Napoleon Bonaparte, former emperor of France and the most feared man on earth. Once lord and master to eighty-two million souls, now, in 1815, Napoleon is a captive of the British people. Stripped of his empire and robbed of his young family and freedom, he is confined to the forbidding, rat-infested island of St. Helena.

The one bright star in Napoleon's black sky is Betsy, a blazingly rebellious teenager whose family is reluctantly housing the notorious prisoner. Betsy is the only foreigner Napoleon's ever met who is not impressed by him — and Napoleon is more than intrigued.

An unexpected alliance is formed. And a remarkable friendship between emperor and girl spawns gossip, and inspires Betsy to hatch a daring and dangerous scheme that could threaten both their lives and shake entire empires to their foundations.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An interesting and intimate look at the life of one of history's most famous men."
School Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"Rabin takes the inspiration for her entertaining if farfetched account of Napoleon Bonaparte's final years from the life of a real British 14-year-old, Betsy Balcombe," wrote PW. "A light read for those who like their lessons served with a large dollop of froth." Ages 10-14. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Fourteen-year-old Betsy Balcombe does not mind living on the remote island of St. Helena. While her father and his comrades call it "Hell in the South Atlantic," Betsy enjoys a level of freedom there that she did not know when locked up at the boarding school she had attended in London. Although she doesn't like the threatening façade of the island's mountains, Betsy thrives on her island adventures. The year is 1815. Napoleon has been defeated at Waterloo, and the British authorities have decided to move him to the isolated island. For a time, the once-grand emperor will stay with the Balcombe family. In spite of the nearly two thousand British troops who guard his every move, the prickly Napoleon strikes up a friendship with the intriguing, willful Betsy. Despite a bumpy start, their unexpected alliance deepens. When the stern, vengeful Governor Lowe comes to oversee Napoleon's confinement, the pair face a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Still, over the scant years of their friendship, Betsy comes to some important realizations about her own growth, and Napoleon comes to terms with his difficult confinement. Staton Rabin's fictionalized tale is a fast-paced blend of humor and adventure. Readers interested in historical tales and strong heroines will find much to like in this story. 2004, Margaret K McElderry/Simon & Schuster, Ages 10 to 14.
—Heidi Hauser Green
School Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
The bare bones of this inventive historical fiction is the unique friendship between Napoleon Bonaparte and 14-year-old Betsy Balcome, whose English family lived on St. Helena, where Napoleon was imprisoned. It's the characterization of the two that puts flesh on the bones, craftily molding their personalities, as both of them really existed. Betsy's insouciance and spunk was a match for "Boney's" imperial nature and elite intelligence; they were kindred spirits both feeling imprisoned. From 1815-18 Betsy tried to invent ways for him to escape, including a daring attempt at building a hot-air balloon with silk dresses. Some plot developments are a bit contrived, though based on historical documentation, as the author's notes cite. This fascinating story plays both with and against the stereotype of Napoleon. Even readers who don't know of Bonaparte will be caught up in the interplay between girl and emperor and the surrounding drama of the world's history-and their own. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Simon Pulse
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I opened my bedroom window and inhaled — deeply, joyfully. That familiar, intoxicating odor: night on St. Helena. The sickly-sweet smell of guava and roses hung in the air like ether, just as I'd remembered it. Who would have thought I'd be so glad to return to the place my father and his navy comrades called "Hell in the South Atlantic"?

It was the autumn of 1815. I had been home again at the Briars just three days, from Hawthorne Boarding School in London. I'd shocked my parents by not misbehaving once since my return to St. Helena. Perhaps they believed the knuckle-rapping, head-thumping headmistress of Hawthorne had finally knocked some sense into their younger daughter. I began to wonder it myself. Blast! Had I lost my sense of adventure? Would I go soft and ladylike and marry some vain, boot-polished officer of the Fifty-fourth Regiment or His Majesty's Navy — as my sister Jane hoped to do?

Just then two booms of the cannon from the port at Jamestown — the signal for a ship's arrival — broke the stillness. And I knew I remained the Betsy Balcombe of yore. Older, yes. Wiser, perhaps. But never, never willing to settle for a life that's "Tedious-as-Hell in the South Atlantic"!

I threw on my bed jacket and grabbed hold of my ladder — the vine that had, over the years, crept bravely up the red brick walls of the Briars and to the very edge of my windowsill. It was many a night that the vine had been my ladder to adventure. Thank heaven Toby hadn't trimmed it back during my long absence!

I slipped a little as I climbed out the window, and Jane woke with a start. She gave a quiet, girlish scream. I looked over at her, and she was sitting up in her white lacy canopy bed, the covers pulled tight under her chin. I had one leg out the window. My sister glared at me, stern as the headmistress of Hawthorne.

"I'll tell...," Jane threatened coolly.

"Still the little tattler," I said, shaking my head. Jane was sixteen — two years older than I; old enough to keep secrets.

"You're going into Jamestown, aren't you?"

"Go back to sleep, Jane. If you don't, you'll make your eyes all puffy and you'll turn ugly so none of the young officers will want to marry you."


"Good night, Jane."

It was too late for her to stop me. I was already out the window and halfway down the vine. Jane would never think of spoiling her pretty hands by attempting to climb down after me.

I jumped the last few feet to the ground. Then I peered around the corner of the Briars to see who was about. Most of our slaves had already returned to their cabins for the night. Most of the soldiers had turned in too, though there seemed to be a few more sentries on watch than usual.

I rounded the corner of the Briars and dashed to the moon-shaded side of the Pavilion veranda. Suddenly, I heard footsteps in the dank leaves nearby. I froze, listening, trying to quiet my winded breathing so it wouldn't betray me.

"Is me. Only me, missy."

Toby! I'd forgotten the old man liked to stroll by night in the gardens he tended by day. He liked to drink a bit of the island rum too. Not enough to get drunk, though. I breathed a sigh of relief.

"You go for the walk at night — like old time, missy, yes?"

"Yes." I still couldn't see him, but I smelled the rum on his breath. I knew he'd be smiling broadly at me with those remarkably white teeth I used to think were a string of pearls from the seas off his native Haiti.

"Miss Jane with you?"

I laughed. "What do you think?"

"Didn't think yes, missy," he said, chuckling softly. "Didn't think yes."

Toby had been with my family for years and had seen Jane and me grow up. But I knew I was his favorite — even more than the boys.

After a moment he whispered hoarsely: "Ship is here, in Jamestown. Do you know?"

"I heard the signal."

Toby fell silent. Then he sighed and whispered seriously: "All will be very different, St. Helena now. Everything soon change, missy, yes?"

I didn't know what Toby meant. He often said things that sounded mysterious. I knew the island slaves to be very superstitious, so I never took much notice.

"Your papa ask me to cut vines all over," he said with a chuckle. "I leave the one outside missy's window for you coming home."

So Toby knew how I'd escaped from my room at night, and he'd kept my secret! I'd always felt he was one of the few people who understood me.

"Thank you, Toby!"

"Hush!" he whispered. "You wake family all, no Jamestown, no ship to see for missy."

"Good night, Toby," I whispered back, and ran toward Jamestown.

Copyright © 2004 by Staton Rabin

Meet the Author

Staton Rabin has a B.F.A. in film from New York University. In addition to writing for children, she is a screenwriter; a popular speaker about the art, craft, and business of writing for film; and a veteran story analyst for Scr(i)pt magazine, screenwriters, and producers. Staton Rabin lives in Irvington, New York.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book almost made me cry, almost nothing can make me cry like this book did, I highly recomend!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Way to go Staton Rabin, this book was great! I love reading about all of the characters they were so interesting. I couldn't have read the book faster, I was actually sad when the book ended. Betsy was such a great character that I hated the idea of not reading more about her and her life with the emperor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got this book last saturday and I finished it with in hours! It was so great that I don't think I ever put the book down for a sec., that's why I recommend Betsy And The Emperor, to everone, especially those who enjoy historical fiction!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was really good. once i started reading, i couldn't put it down! before i read this, i didnt know much about Napoleon Bonaparte, nor was i very interested. but after reading this, it made me curious to learn more about him. i recommend it to anyone willing to give history a chance. it can be pretty interesting if you give it a try.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a very good book. Although I don't exactly enjoy reading\learning about the Nepolianic Era, this really drew me in. It made me want to learn more. And the story itself was really good, too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just couldn't put it down, it was just so good, and it's not just a great story but you also learn a lot of history. Also, i really recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for school, and I really enjoyed it! It's a fun way of learning history and it has a very entertaining storyline. Two thumbs up!