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Betsy and the Emperor



Historical fluff has teen and Napoleon as unlikely friends.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Despite many historical settings and events, the plotline and the stereotyped characters will leave readers wondering what is fact and what is fiction.

Positive messages

In this rather silly story, Napoleon Bonaparte regrets not spending more time making himself beloved. Betsy finds him heroic despite his exiled status. The central message seems to be girls just want to have fun, even in 1815.

Positive role models

Betsy is loyal to her friends and she is ambitious. Napoleon Bonaparte is shown as a very ambiguous historical character.


Brief reference to Napoleon's massacre of prisoners; battle.


Rumors of mistresses and harems that follow Napoleon; rumors of an improper relationship between 14-year-old Betsy and Bonaporte are reported in a newspaper; Betsy enjoys her first kiss(es) with an older naval officer; her 16-year-old sister fools around with an officer; Betsy finds Bonaparte in bed with a married woman.


"Hell" is uttered.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults drink at parties; Betsy is locked in her father's wine cellar for a day as punishment and she drinks a bottle of wine while there, becoming drunk for the first time.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that  this is a fairly harmless piece of historical fluff. Betsy is a tomboy but superficial and self-centered; she helps her family's tutor hatch an escape plan for Bonaparte but when the beloved tutor dies in a test run, she tells no one and goes merrily on to a ball. Her 16-year-old sister dallies with older officers while trying to find a husband. The historical details get lost in a convoluted storyline that has Napoleon Bonaparte playing the part of a misunderstood hero who commands the devotion of a bored 14-year-old girl -- but at least he doesn't take advantage of her.

Kids say

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What's the story?

Fourteen-year-old Betsy Balcombe finishes school and feels trapped on the island that is her home in 1815. Despite living on the edge of nowhere, her parents expect her to be a prim and proper young woman. Instead she likes to sneak out of her window at night and run around town in her nightgown, only to encounter Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled with his entire entourage. Because she is bored and knows it would annoy her parents, she befriends him when he is stationed at her house, and even helps hatch an escape plan for him. It fails and kills a man, but Betsy goes on to enjoy her first ball, and her first romance with an older naval officer. But false rumors of Napoleon's relationship with Betsy create all kinds of problems for her and her family. Author includes source notes, historical notes, and notes on the Napoleonic Code.

Is it any good?


These are cardboard characters that don't engender much emotion. Betsy is "headstrong" yet also thoughtless. And all the girl-power in the book is negated by  the short-sighted, predictable ambitions of this spoiled teen.

The odd mix of historical details and preposterous plot lines never gel to make a respectable romance or an alternative history. The author's note at the end explains that most of the characters were based on actual people, and that records show that the exiled Bonaparte did make the acquaintance of Betsy and her family. But that doesn't seem to make the story any more intriguing.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the role of women early in the 19th century. What were Betsy's chances of living her adult life off the island?

  • Does history show Napoleon to be a hero, or a villain? What were his biggest contributions? Was he important for the reasons Betsy thought he was?

  • Was it hard to imagine this was a true story, even though most of the characters were based on real people?

Book details

Author:Staton Rabin
Genre:Coming of Age
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Simon Pulse
Publication date:March 24, 2006
Number of pages:294
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

This review of Betsy and the Emperor was written by

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Educator and Parent of a 11, 15, and 18+ year old Written bymeamo89 May 5, 2010

RE: Don't let your kids read this if you don't like profanity

This book has more than just one utterance of hell in it. Someone needs to reread it. I would NOT approve of this for any of my children! Not even early teens.
What other families should know
Too much swearing