Saturday 7 July 2012

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran - Book Review

Title: The Second Empress
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: 14th August 2012
Pages: 321
Format: E-Book - PDF
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: ARC via NetGalley

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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.
(Goodreads Synopsis)

This is a very enjoyable historical fiction novel. Many novels set in Napoleonic France concentrate on Napoleon or Josephine, so it was refreshing to see a more 'minor' character take the floor in Marie-Louise.

I enjoyed the mixed perspective take on the story, with many different character view-points and I think Moran managed to condense the storyline well.

On the whole, the research and historical detail are solid. There are a few anachronisms, though, and some 'mistakes' (although Moran accounts for many of these in her 'Author Note' at the end of the book), which is why this book got four stars and not five.

In terms of storytelling, however, it was a very enjoyable read and one I would recommend to fans of historical fiction.

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