Austria 1767: Maria Carolina Charlotte-ninth daughter and sixteenth child of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria-knows her position as a Hapsburg archduchess will inevitably force her to leave her home, her family, and her beloved country. But not yet. The Hapsburg family is celebrating a great triumph: Charlotte’s older sister, Josepha, has been promised to King Ferdinand IV of Naples, and will soon take her place as queen. Before Josepha can journey to her new home, however, tragedy strikes: after visiting the family crypt, Josepha contracts smallpox and dies. Shocked, Charlotte is forced to face an unthinkable new reality: she must now marry Ferdinand in her sister’s stead.
Bereft and alone, Charlotte finds that her new life in Naples is more complicated than she could ever have imagined. Ferdinand is weak and feckless, and a disastrous wedding night plunges her into despair. Her husband’s regent, Tenucci, is a controlling and power-hungry man who has pushed the country to the brink of ruin. Overwhelmed, she asks her brother Leopold, now the Holy Roman Emperor, to send help-which he does in the form of John Acton, a handsome military man twenty years Charlotte’s senior who is tasked to take over the Navy. Now, Charlotte must gather the strength to do what her mother did before her: take control of a country. In a time of political uprisings, royal executions, and the increasingly desperate crisis her favorite sister, Queen Marie Antoinette, is facing in France, how is a young monarch to keep hold of everything-and everyone-she loves? Find out in this sweeping, luxurious tale of family, court intrigue, and power.