Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court by Michelle Moran

Rating: 4 out of 5
Title: The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court
Author: Michelle Moran
Series: No
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Crown (August 14, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307953033
ISBN-13: 978-0307953032

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, Jos├ęphine, 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.

Initial Thoughts
I must confess to not knowing anything about Napoleon other then he had a wife called Josephine, he conquered most of Europe, the battle of Waterloo, the British hated his guts (and vice versa), and he was exiled - twice. So I was most surprised to learn he had a second wife and this was who Michelle Moran's latest book was based on. This book covers the four years Marie-Louise is with Napoleon.

Michelle Moran always does really good research on her books and it shows through her writing. I almost felt like you are part of Napoleons court. The detail written into the book is astounding, from the clothes, to the people, to the places it is vivid and feels realistic. It probably helps most people have a vague idea of what places like Versailles, The Louvre etc all look like. 

As with most historical fiction Michelle Moran did change some aspects of historical fact to fit in with her story. Also Moran obviously made some conclusions for herself based on her research. She states on her website the biggest conclusion she made was Marie's attitude towards Napoleon. Some argue that there is evidence in Marie's letters that she loved Napoleon I agree with Michelle's assertion that of course Marie was going to say those things in letters knowing full well her husband's spies were reading them. Also I have seen arguments that state she was reluctant to leave her husband and France. However I suspect that she would not have liked her son being striped of his right to the throne being a Royal herself (I could imagine for a person born of Royal blood in those days having your title stripped would have been about as bad as being killed, maybe worse). But those are just my theories not based on any real evidence.

The Characters
I'll be honest I wasn't to fussed about Marie-Louise. I think the other characters over shadowed her a lot. Even the man servant Paul was more interesting.

I actually really enjoyed reading Pauline's perspective the most. Even though she is supposed to be the baddy. She is such a vain, selfish, ambitious and conniving creature. Yet, for me, she was the most interesting to read. I felt sympathy for her as her life had not been easy and her relationship with Napoleon was just weird and disastrous. They clearly had a love/hate (and possibly lover?) relationship that was so destructive to them both. If I had known her in real life I would dislike her intensely. But as a character to read she was delightful in her selfishness, depravity and excess. 

I think telling the story from three different perspectives all in Napoleons court detracted from the story a little and it was hard for me to really connect to Marie-Louise. The story is told from Marie-Louise's perspective, Princess Pauline Borghese (Bonpoarte), and Pauline's Chamberlin Paul. 

This didn't click for me the way that her book Madame Tussaude: A Novel of the French Revolution  did (interesting note Josephine makes an appearance in this book), but I still greatly enjoyed this book and Michelle Moran has a wonderfully easy way of writing where you don't feel like you are being force fed her views on a person from history(indeed I felt she made the villains seem sympathetic at times).; or information dump on you as the reader. Which means you as the reader can just enjoy this story.

I would whole heartedly recommend this book to read if you love historical fiction as it gives you a fascinating peek into the life of someone history has largely forgotten about even though her contribution to French history was quite interesting.

This was the first book I searched for images and created a pinterest board for. This has images of the main characters and the places mentioned in the book. For me this really brought the story to life. If you would like to see the images please click on this link for my pinterest board of Images Relating To Fiction Books

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