Thursday, September 6, 2012

Julie's Reviews: The Second Empress

Summary: 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. Based on primary resources from the time, The Second Empress takes readers back to Napoleon’s empire, where royals and servants alike live at the whim of one man, and two women vie to change their destinies.

Review: I am a huge fan of Michelle Moran's novels ever since discovering her after reading the tremendous novel, Nefertiti. In The Second Empress, she gives us a glimpse into the final 6 years of Napoleon's rule and his 2nd wife, Marie-Louise. He marries her after he casts aside his first wife Josephine for her indiscretions while he was on the battlefield.

I have to say the whole Bonaparte clan was just mind blowingly crazy. They were power hungry, greedy, SOBs. They were extravagant even by standards of royal extravagance. Nothing was out of their reach. Napoleon's sister, Pauline, was perhaps worse than her brother in her lust to have all things beautiful in her grasp. I know it's pretty normal for royal to be incestuous to keep the blood lines true, but the vibe between Napoleon and Pauline was mortifying for me. It gave me the willies. His sister Caroline, made up for cruelty in what she didn't have in the beauty department.

Enter the Princess of Austria, Maria-Lucia. A beautiful 18 year old, who is about to become Napoleon's 2nd wife. It always fascinates me how the royals can marry without being divorced and no one calls them a bigamist. But really isn't that what they are even if they are trying to abdicate from the Catholic Church? Even under law, it doesn't seem like you should be married to two people. Then again, they are royals and can make laws so they only apply to them. Maria-Lucia becomes Marie-Louise when she marries Napoleon and gives him a true heir. Never mind the child he had by way of his mistress. Marie-Louise does right by her husband and obeys the instructions she's give by him when he goes off to fight the Russians. She knows what it takes to rule an empire and does right by the French people for she is their Empress.

Besides finding Marie-Louis fascinating, I was taken with Pauline's Haitian chamberlain, Paul. He was a good man, who was trying to be loyal, faithful and honest while serving the Princess Borghese. Yes, he was in love with her but after a while that love faded and he ended up seeing her for what she was...a whore dressed up in title and beautiful clothing. I love that he was able to truly find his independence and return to his home country. I also found Hortense to be of exceptional character. In her, I believe, Empress Marie-Louise found a true friend.

Is this period of time in French history something I know a lot about, well no but that's kind of why I read historical fiction, to be somewhat educated. Now sure I could go and read non-fiction but for me it's the filling in of what you can't find in the history books that I find intriguing. It's the true history wrapped in fiction that hooks me. I know that Ms. Moran researches the heck out of her books, so I'm fairly certain she has a good chunk of her facts correct but that won't stop people from tearing it apart.

I can't say enough for Ms. Moran's writing. If you haven't looked for her novels before, then I can say The Second Empress is a great place to start. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Final Take:  4.75/5



Michelle September 6, 2012 at 10:51 PM  

I just saw another review of this and thought of you immediately. Another Moran book I need to add to my shelves, I fear!

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