Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: August 2012, Crown Publishing
Source: Purchased from BN.com
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon’s power is absolute. When Marie-Louise, the eighteen year old daughter of the King of Austria, is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon, leaving the man she loves and her home forever, or say no, and plunge her country into war.
Marie-Louise knows what she must do, and she travels to France, determined to be a good wife despite Napoleon’s reputation. But lavish parties greet her in Paris, and at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her husband’s affection, including Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine, and his sister Pauline, the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. Beloved by some and infamous to many, Pauline is fiercely loyal to her brother. She is also convinced that Napoleon is destined to become the modern Pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, her greatest hope is to rule alongside him as his queen—a brother-sister marriage just as the ancient Egyptian royals practiced. Determined to see this dream come to pass, Pauline embarks on a campaign to undermine the new empress and convince Napoleon to divorce Marie-Louise.
As Pauline's insightful Haitian servant, Paul, watches these two women clash, he is torn between his love for Pauline and his sympathy for Marie-Louise. But there are greater concerns than Pauline's jealousy plaguing the court of France. While Napoleon becomes increasingly desperate for an heir, the empire's peace looks increasingly unstable. When war once again sweeps the continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise’s family in Austria, the second Empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history—and change the course of her life.
With the excitement of this book's recent publication, I decided to go ahead and make The Second Empress the second book I have read by Michelle Moran. You might recall that I loved Cleopatra's Daughter, and I'm thrilled to report that I also greatly enjoyed The Second Empress. Of course, having now read another of Moran's books, I really want to make it a priority to read the rest of them. I honestly think that Moran is a genius at making you feel like you are right there in whatever world and time she is writing about. I felt that way about ancient Egypt in Cleopatra's Daughter and I thought I was getting an inside look at Napoleon's France. Prior to reading Moran, the extent of my experience with historical fiction was primarily Regency England and various periods in the earlier years of America. Now I will happily read any time and place that Moran chooses to take us!
In The Second Empress, by telling the story from three different viewpoints -- that of Marie-Louise, Napoleon's second wife, Pauline, Napoleon's sister, and Paul, who is Pauline's servant -- we really get a feel for the complete story behind Napoleon's last six years of reign and his inevitable fall. Fans of Napoleon may not like this story as much because he is certainly not portrayed in a favorable light (Moran makes note of this in an author's note, as well), but I have never cared for him so I had no problem with his treatment. The amount of research that Moran has done is obvious, as well. Though this is, of course, a work of fiction, we are given a bit of a history lesson as well and those who are less familiar with the history of France and Napoleon will be easily able to understand what is going on and learn a bit in the process. Moran also uses many actual letters between Napoleon, his sister, and his first wife, Josephine and between these and the extensive research, this book has the feel of an authentic tale. But of course, it is worth keeping in mind that this IS a work of fiction and the bias that Moran chose to use against Napoleon will color the story.
Of course, tying this all together into the total package is Moran's writing itself. Her dialogues are sharp and sparkling, the use of factual historical detail is written in such a way that the story is only aided by it and not bogged down, and because of this it is nearly impossible not to get swept up in this book. I am looking forward to diving into one of her previously released books soon, and of course, I look forward to reading about when and where Moran takes us next!