The Queen's Fortune

The Queen's Fortune

by Allison Pataki


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A sweeping novel about the extraordinary woman who captured Napoleon’s heart, created a dynasty, and changed the course of history—from the New York Times bestselling author of The Traitor's Wife, The Accidental Empress, and Sisi.

As the French revolution ravages the country, Desiree Clary is faced with the life-altering truth that the world she has known and loved is gone and it’s fallen on her to save her family from the guillotine.

A chance encounter with Napoleon Bonaparte, the ambitious and charismatic young military prodigy, provides her answer. When her beloved sister Julie marries his brother Joseph, Desiree and Napoleon’s futures become irrevocably linked. Quickly entering into their own passionate, dizzying courtship that leads to a secret engagement, they vow to meet in the capital once his career has been secured. But her newly laid plans with Napoleon turn to sudden heartbreak, thanks to the rising star of Parisian society, Josephine de Beauharnais. Once again, Desiree’s life is turned on its head.

Swept to the glittering halls of the French capital, Desiree is plunged into the inner circle of the new ruling class, becoming further entangled with Napoleon, his family, and the new Empress. But her fortunes shift once again when she meets Napoleon's confidant and star general, the indomitable Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. As the two men in Desiree’s life become political rivals and military foes, the question that arises is: must she choose between the love of her new husband and the love of her nation and its Emperor?

From the lavish estates of the French Riviera to the raucous streets of Paris and Stockholm, Desiree finds herself at the epicenter of the rise and fall of an empire, navigating a constellation of political giants and dangerous, shifting alliances. Emerging from an impressionable girl into a fierce young woman, she discovers that to survive in this world she must learn to rely upon her instincts and her heart.

Allison Pataki’s meticulously researched and brilliantly imagined novel sweeps readers into the unbelievable life of a woman almost lost to history—a woman who, despite the swells of a stunning life and a tumultuous time, not only adapts and survives but, ultimately, reigns at the helm of a dynasty that outlasts an empire.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593128183
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/11/2020
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 1,121
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Allison Pataki is the New York Times bestselling author of The Queen’s Fortune, The Traitor’s Wife, The Accidental Empress, Sisi: Empress On Her Own, Where the Light Falls, as well as the nonfiction memoir Beauty in the Broken Places and two children’s books, Nelly Takes New York and Poppy Takes Paris. Her novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages. A former news writer and producer, Pataki has written for The New York Times, ABC News, HuffPost, USA Today, Fox News, and other outlets. She has appeared on Today, Fox & Friends, Good Day New York, Good Day Chicago, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Pataki graduated cum laude from Yale University with a major in English and spent several years in journalism before switching to fiction writing. A member of the Historical Novel Society, she lives in New York with her husband and family.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Convent of Notre Dame, Southern France

Summer 1789

Something was very wrong. I could see it that morning in their pinched faces, the way the nuns flew up the corridor, their heels clipping angrily against the cold, ancient stones of the abbey. Whispers skittering to and fro, hesitant and erratic, like the fragile flicker of the candlelight that just barely illuminated their hurried steps.

My stomach growled and I pressed my fist into my gut, willing my thoughts away from the hunger. “We haven’t had a harvest this poor in decades,” the nuns kept telling us all summer long. Equal parts resignation and censure, as if we’d somehow brought it on ourselves. “God is testing our faith.” God’s test lasted for weeks, then months. Months that, to a hungry girl of eleven years, stretched out with the vastness of eternity. “We must pray for the poor souls who are suffering. We pray for the poor, for the hungry,” the nuns told us each night at vespers, and then again at the morning lauds. The hungry? I wanted to rail back at them. Am I not starving? But I knew better, of course, than to answer the Sisters with anything more than a doleful nod, eyes lowered piously to the floor. I didn’t need my backside to ache along with my empty belly.

In the convent, the only place where we got enough food was the sick ward; it was something we all knew as fact. When my sister, Julie, fell sick last winter, laid up on a pristine cot, tucked in between crisp, white sheets, I’d practically skipped through the halls to the nursing ward. I’d forced myself on her, pressing my lips to hers. Like a stag in rutting season, she’d gasped, her eyes wide with shocked and offended modesty as she chided me with one of Maman’s well-worn scowls.

It had worked—I’d gotten myself gloriously sick, far sicker than Julie even. It had been two weeks of gluttonous eating, weeks of luxuriating in my warm cot, dozing even as I heard the bells chime for matins and the other girls, exhausted, stomachs empty and groaning for bread, shuffling down the dark halls to the freezing chapel for the predawn services. I’d stretched that illness for days, even after my throat had healed and my lungs had cleared. Not only had I lied, but I had lied in order to commit the dual sins of gluttony and sloth. I’d relished every minute of it.

But that morning, the morning when I was certain I was in trouble, it was not because I had feigned sickness. It was not because I had lied to get more food or sleep. No, that morning I had sinned far worse. Thou shalt not steal. I knew the commandment, and yet, I’d stolen. Perhaps not stolen—hidden. Sister Marie-Benedictine had been struggling across the yard during our morning recess when her wheelbarrow had toppled over, her dazzling supply of plump melons rolling across the small patch of parched, yellow grass. She’d enlisted us to help retrieve her bounty, but I’d stepped in front of one and kicked it quickly into a bush and out of sight. I’d just been so famished, and that melon had appeared so ripe and juicy—and so near. I’d felt a momentary pang of guilt, for Sister Marie-Benedictine was one of the kind ones, but my hunger pangs had quickly quashed that lesser discomfort. After Sister left, limping her cart across the remainder of the yard toward the kitchen, I’d enlisted Julie to help me move the melon farther from sight, tucking it away in the back of the yard. Our own treasure.

But someone must have seen. Someone had snitched, and now Mère Supérieure knew. I was certain of it. “Does it hurt?” I asked my sister as we shuffled down the long, dim hallway that led to our dormitory.

“What?” Julie asked.

“You know,” I whispered.

Julie shrugged.

“The beating,” I groaned, my voice betraying my panic.

“How would I know?” Julie frowned. Of course she would not know; she had never committed a transgression like this. Or, perhaps more accurately, she’d never been caught committing a transgression like this. She was far too cautious, her judgment far too sound. I had always been the reckless one.

“I just know they found it.” I gnawed a piece of skin off my finger, the tinny taste of blood seeping into my mouth.

“Stop chewing your fingers,” Julie scolded. Six years stretched between us, half my lifetime. Usually she was more a mother than a sister.

“Why else would they have disrupted our lessons and ordered us back to the dormitory?” I asked, certain of our fate, my hand falling limply to my side.

“Ah, the Clary girls, there you are. Julie. Desiree.” Mère Marie-Claude raced toward us down the corridor, a flurry of white, her wimple fluttering around her face with each hasty step.

Horror of all horrors! Mère Supérieure, Mother Superior herself, here to administer our punishment! God, I will never steal another melon, as long as I live. Please spare me your justice this once. I beg for mercy. Oh, Holy Mother, please intercede with your Son.

But when I glanced back at Mother Superior’s face, it wasn’t anger I detected on her weary features. No, I knew that look, because it mirrored how I myself felt in that very instant; Mother Superior was afraid.

“Girls, your family has been notified to fetch you immediately and take you home, back to Marseille.”

Neither Julie nor I spoke, so stunned were we by this sudden declaration.

“Fetch us?” Julie asked after a moment, my ever-dutiful sister forgetting the proper formality of speech in her confusion.

“Prepare your things at once,” was all Mother Superior offered by way of reply. An image of my own mother’s face, seared with anger—or was it her permanent disappointment?—blurred my vision. What would she say to this?

“Mother Superior, please.” I fell to my knees, the unyielding stone floor receiving my joints with a vicious smack; I’d have bruises, to be sure. I ignored that, raising my hands in supplication: “The fault was entirely mine! I deserve to be sent from school, but not my sister. She played no part. I beg you to—”

“Hush, Desiree.” Mother Superior lifted a long-fingered hand, her face stitching into an impatient scowl. “Quiet, for once, you foolish girl. You will return home, as will all the girls whose families can arrange for safe travel. The others . . . those whose families are abroad, well, we aren’t certain how we shall . . .” Mother Superior exhaled aloud, an uncharacteristic display of some internal strain. “But never mind that. You girls are fortunate. Your family is close. They shall come and take you home, where you will be far safer than at this convent.”

“But . . . take us home? Why? We are not on holiday.” Julie’s voice betrayed the same confusion I felt. Why were we suddenly unsafe here, in the convent? I wondered.

“War,” Mother Superior said, her eyes softening, if only for a moment, as she saw our puzzlement. “You girls must pray. For . . . for all of us. And for France.”

“War?” I repeated the word, incredulous. The sound was alien, the statement as outlandish as if Mother Superior were telling us that the Virgin Mary sat in the dining hall waiting to have bread and milk with us that very instant. “War with whom?” I asked.

Mother Superior frowned. “Ourselves. It’s a revolution.”

Julie took my hand, her palm clammy and cold, as Mother Superior continued: “The people have risen up.”

The words I’d heard so many times in recent months raced across my mind: We haven’t had a harvest this poor in decades.

Mother Superior’s voice pulled me back to her, back to this dark corridor in the damp stone convent. “They seem to believe that the enemies come from the nobility and . . . and the Church. We are not safe here. They are sacking monasteries and setting fire to convents all over the country—stabbing priests, defiling nuns.” She raised her hands, clasped them before her breast in a gesture of prayer. “But I’ve said too much. You girls don’t need to know . . . I do not have time for this.” She blinked, looking at Julie and then turning her eyes on me. “Go to the dormitory at once. Prepare your things. You shall leave this night. I shall pray for you.” Her eyes held mine for a long moment, her expression seeming to indicate a mixture of concern and something else. Was it sadness? Or perhaps fear for my suddenly uncertain future? But then the stern woman pulled her shoulders back, straightening to her full height, and with that, Mère Marie-Claude turned and strode briskly away, offering not another word or backward glance in our direction.

“Revolution,” Julie said in the nun’s sudden absence, her voice barely a whisper. “Killing priests. Burning convents. How shall we ever make it home alive?”

I took my sister’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Papa will get us back safely. Or else Nicolas. Julie, don’t worry, we shall be home by this time tomorrow.” I sounded confident as I said it, and I was, so complete was my faith in our father and our elder brother. And besides, no matter how terrible the news may have been for our countrymen and our clergy, I could not ignore one glorious, welcome truth: at last, we were going home.

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The Queen's Fortune: A Novel of Desiree, Napoleon, and the Dynasty That Outlasted the Empire 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
BettyTaylor 17 hours ago
You know when Allison Pataki releases a historical fiction novel there has been years of extensive research put into it. I loved “The Accidental Empress”, “Sisi: Empress on Her Own”, “The Traitor’s Wife” (my favorite), and “Where the Light Falls”. I knew nothing about Desiree Clary before reading this book. Pataki is a master at pulling lesser known women from history and placing them center stage to be recognized as courageous women who made significant contributions to history. I wasn’t as impressed with this story as I was the previous ones I have read. I feel that Desiree was more of a follower than a leader. I guess that is why I had never heard of her. Her story wasn’t enough to hold my interest, thus setting the book aside for lengthy periods of time. But the writing is still superb and the descriptions vivid enough to make me feel I had been transported to the place and time of the story.
Louisekf 7 days ago
I'm conflicted about how to rate this book. I'm going with 3 stars because, although the writing was very good, it just wasn't a 'page turner" for me. The story really bogged down in places, so much so that I wound up putting the book down to read a different book at least twice. I appreciated learning a lot about the Napoleonic era, which is something that wasn't covered in depth in my education. (I now know why there is an Avenue de Wagram in Paris!) But there were a lot of gaps in understanding the characters' motivations. As an example: Desiree's eventual husband, General Bernadotte, supposedly is staunchly against the idea of kings and yet somehow becomes one - and the author doesn't write about how he reconciled himself to this apparent contradiction. I do love historical fiction, but this one just didn't do it for me. Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for an advanced readers copy in exchange for my honest review.
EAP1030 8 days ago
{The Queen’s Fortune by Alison Pataki~Thank you @netgalley for providing me with this opportunity to read a book I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time. The Queen’s Fortune stars a woman in history that somehow slipped into obscurity over time and I’ll admit that although I’ve read numerous books about the French Monarchy, the French Revolution and Napoleon & Josephine Bonaparte, I have yet to of ever heard of Desiree Clary. Raised in a convent for most of her adolescence with her sister Julie, we find the girls sent home in a hurry as the convent is no longer safe. Once home to the southern part of France they join their mother, brother and father. They live in more than modest surroundings as her father is a wealthy silk merchant but he soon passes away from the stresses of the Revolution. When their brother is suddenly arrested the family fears the sharp edge of the guillotine looming overhead and Desiree’s mother urgently sends her with Julie to petition for his release. As luck would have it Desiree meets Joseph Bonaparte who is none other than the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon manages to have her brother released and when Joseph introduces him to the Clary family he finds Desiree irresistible, and they soon fall in love. What then unfolds is a recount of the rise and fall of Napoleon from a completely different point of view. Desiree’s life weaves through important parts of history and tells a story full of love, war, heartbreak, bravery, jealousy and what can only be described as remarkable. Very informative and compelling but will ultimately leave you with an almost guilty feeling as to why you didn’t know more about this Desiree! This book will be published tomorrow February 11! If you like history, drama and romance, you should definitely give this a try. I did really love this book but most of all I loved the author’s note, in my opinion the best part is always finding out how the author originally came up with the idea and the dedication that went into creating the story!
Anonymous 10 days ago
The wonderful things about books is how they impact our lives in so many ways. In 1966 the book [book:Désirée|84049] by [author:Annemarie Selinko|48143] was one such book. I was 13, chubby, coke bottle eyeglasses and nerdy when I stumbled onto this book at the library and blithely went to check it out. What could be more romantic to a 13 year old than a book about Napoleon's first love who goes on to be the Queen of Sweden? The librarian refused to let me check it out as "it was too advanced" for my age and proceeded to call my mother to tell her what I was up to. The joys of living in a small town. My mother told her to let me check it out and that I could read whatever I wanted to. I can not tell you what that did for me and the impact lasted my entire life. Reading was not dangerous. It was not reading that was dangerous. So this book was near and dear to my heart probably not for it's literary value but for what it signified. I started this book with trepidation because I was afraid it would spoil something for me. I was happy that it did not. It told the story of Desiree Clary who fell in love with Napoleon when she was a young girl. This is based on a real story. He left Marseilles and went to Paris where he met and fell in love with Josephine. Desiree's heart was broken. Her older sister married Napoleon's older brother, Joseph, and Desiree moved to Paris to live with them. She moved in court circles and became Napoleon's "sister". She became friends with Josephine (sort of) and married one of Napoleon's Marshals, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. A renowned fighting man he went on to become King of Sweden in a very complicated circumstance. Desiree never adjusted to Sweden and spent most of her time in France. It's still a lovely story about a young girl's fairy tale life and if you have never read about her, take the opportunity to acquaint yourself. She's well worth the read and this is a well written book. I was disappointed that the author never mentioned the book [book:Désirée|84049] in her list of books she used as research and I find that hard to believe. Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.
DebbieLTD 10 days ago
What an awesome recount of the life of Napoleon told by Desiree, his ex-finance and a close member of his inner circle! This historical fiction had me captivated from the start. I had, of course, heard of Napoleon, but had not heard of Desiree, or the story behind his family and other members of his political and familial circles. I truly loved reading about his life told from a different perspective. The characters and story were extremely well developed and the events flowed easily from one to another. Highly recommend this story. I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Christie173 12 days ago
I don't read a lot of royal books, mainly because they tend to be way too fictionalized and make a mess of stuff. This book was great! I have my own slight obsession with Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, and knew one of her middle names was descended from Désirée Clary, the subject of this book. It was well written, and engaging and heartbreaking and happy. It had so much going for it without making the reader feel overwhelmed. The descriptions of Désirée's relationships, Napoleon, her sister Julie and her family, made the characters of the past come alive. Highly recommend for anyone interesting in royal history. The book did not focus as much on her as Queen of Sweden, but her life prior and around coming to the throne.
marongm8 13 days ago
This book was received as an ARC from Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own. This was by far the Historical Fiction novel that just blew my mind. This book had drama all around that was super enticing and juicy that it made you not want to stop. The relationships that become tangled with Desiree and her family members marrying family of ruler Napoleon Bonaparte and that ignites a potential relationship with Napoleon and Desiree until he meets the fair maiden Josephine de Beauharnais destined for one another. Now with a broken heart and vulnerable as ever, Desiree meets Napoleon's confidant and star general Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte who later becomes a rival of Napoleon and now Desiree's world has been shaken up to the nth degree and she is now faced with a difficult choice between her new man or the nation that she loves and its Emperor. Action Drama packed that will leave you speechless with your mouth wide opened. I can't wait to pass this along to our community and have them experience it for themselves. We will consider adding this title to our Historical Fiction collection at the library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
sban 13 days ago
I wish to thank Net Galley, the author and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine Books for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book. I have voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. What a wonderful historical fiction about the lives of Desiree Clary who was first engaged to Napoleon and Josephine whom he later married. The splendor of the French Court, the jewels, the fashions and the lives of the ruling class at that time are just stunning to learn about. The reader can tell that Allison Pataki did meticulous research while writing this book. I knew very little about Napoleon and his life before starting this one and it makes me want to read more but it will never be as intriguing as what Allison has written. I have already recommended this book to my book club and several friends with the confidence that they will enjoy it as much as I did. Brilliantly done!
PanglossMystic 13 days ago
A very interesting book about Napoleon's first fiancé, a young girl living in Marseilles. She ultimately becomes Queen of Sweden. I had never heard of this woman, but her life story makes a great historical novel. If you have any interest in French history, you'll want to read this book. It moves along at a good pace, with interesting historical characters, set against the French Revolution and Napoleon's reign.
candicervaldez 13 days ago
I love historical fiction. Allison Pataki has a way of bringing it to life and making you feel like you are right there in the story. This book is no different. I enjoyed reading about Napoleon, from his humble beginnings, all the way to his death. The author has done her research and has brilliantly composed a book that i could not put down. 5+ stars. This is a great read and teaches you some history as well. This author is always a must read for me. I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Rachel_Denise01 13 days ago
The Queen’s Fortune by Allison Pataki is an amazing, epic, and thrilling historical fiction piece that tells the story of the very interesting woman, Desiree Clary Bernadotte. I have to admit upfront that whe I know qyuite a bit of Russian and English history, I know less about French history. Ms Pataki is very talented in that she was able to weave together an amazing story of a woman that was involved with so many important moments in history, yet was under the radar for a majority of them. I absorbed every hard-fought and well-researched tidbit, devouring each page with fascination. This novel is clearly well-researched and written with a respect that should make any family proud. I loved Desiree and because of Ms Pataki, I am searching for more on this fascinating woman of history, as well as addition information on the history of the rich nations of France and Sweden. This novel is a triumph and I loved every breathtaking moment of it. A true gem. Ms Pataki has a great gift. 5/5 stars enthusiastically
HalKid2 13 days ago
I received early access to this book (scheduled for publication Feb 11, 2020) in exchange for writing an impartial review. I have read nearly all of Allison Pataki’s books and am a huge fan. This one however let me down. It’s not bad; just not up to the standard I’ve come to expect from this author. Three and a half stars is more accurate. What you have here is a truly fascinating character in Desiree Clary, a little known historical figure who survived France’s Reign of Terror, was briefly engaged to Napoleon Bonaparte, became an attendant to Empress Josephine, and wound up as Queen of Sweden. What Pataki tries to do is flesh out this woman’s remarkable life. But while I agree that Desiree’s life and this historical period are captivating, the narrative didn’t quite hang together as it might have. Certainly there’s plenty of drama to keep you turning the pages. And it certainly begins well enough. Desiree is a child at the start of the book, telling about her experiences of fear and hunger following the French Revolution. Chance brings her into the orbit of Bonaparte, a young, talented, and ambitious soldier with big dreams. He’s unlike anyone else and they become engaged. However, once Femme Fatale Josephine enters the picture, the book seems to shift from Desiree’s first-person viewpoint to that of Desiree as more of an observer, focusing on the story of Bonaparte and Josephine. Theirs is certainly an interesting story. But for me, it’s much more interesting to read historical fiction directly from a participant. Less so when the story is told solely through one character’s observations of others. It’s as though we are suddenly one step removed from the action, with no opportunity for the kind of first hand information that, for example, you can “witness” when a married couple is speaking privately. And while Desiree is busy telling us about the Emperor and his wife, her own life gets much less attention, mostly sidelined. Later, when Bonaparte begins to lose power, we again pick up Desiree’s own more direct story. But shortly thereafter, the narrative starts to skip big chunks of time as we suddenly fly from milestone to milestone in Desiree’s later life. For example, one chapter tells the story of her son’s marriage. The next picks up decades later when it’s time for her husband to die. Then, next section, it’s 16 years later still and Desiree is near death herself. Since the story had been, up to this point, following events quite closely and sequentially, It suddenly felt to me like the narrative had segments dropped. Almost as though once Napoleon and Josephine disappeared, it was time to quickly close Desiree’s story. Almost as though her story didn’t have sufficient merit of its own, once she was no longer in Napoleon’s orbit. If you have an interest in Napoleonic history, you’ll want to read this one. He doesn’t come off as much of a hero. In fact he’s not very likable at all. Nor is Josephine. I just didn’t feel the book did justice to Desiree’s story. And that’s what Pataki said (in the Afterword) that she was trying to do.