Monday, October 15, 2012

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

Title/Author: The Second Empress: A Novel op Napoleon's Court by Michelle Moran
Publisher/Date published: Crown Publishing Group, August 14th 2012
How I got this book: received it from the publisher through NetGalley

Goodreads 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, 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."

Guys, I loved Michelle Moran's YA novel Cleopatra's Daughter. And ever since I've been dying to read more by her as I've heard nothing but good things about her writing. And while I did enjoy this novel, there was something stopping me from falling in love with it the way I did with Cleopatra's Daughter.

I think there were some clues in the summary, namely that it's just SO LONG! There's so much going on and it focuses on 3 characters that are so different that it takes a LOT of time to explain everything and get a good sense of who they all are. And the book itself wasn't that big, spanning 312 pages. So when I was finally feeling comfortable with the characters, the story was over.

I thought this would center more around Napoleon and Marie-Louise's relationship, but while there's a lot of talk of the emperor, he's not really present all that much. It's more focused on the relationship between Paul and Pauline and Marie-Louise, who are the 3 main characters.

I really liked Marie-Louise (or rather Maria Lucia). I liked that she wasn't a whimpering woman, she actually tried to do something about her situation. I loved her for sacrificing herself and understanding at that age that it was necessary for her family. And I really respected that while she could have taken a lover while she was married, she had made the decision not to and to stay true to Napoleon. Well, up until he was dethroned, but I was kinda ok with the way that worked out. It must have been hard for her to compete with Jos├ęphine, who was still very much alive and present in Napoleon's life.

Pauline was another story, GAH, I really, very strongly disliked that woman! She was just delusional and selfish and cruel... I wanted to slap her! I get that she was sick, but it started way before that spiralled out of control! I really didn't like reading the chapter from her POV.

I could respect Paul in all other things than his love for Pauline. And towards the end his disappointment in her made him somewhat cruel as well, which while I applauded him for sticking up for himself, made me uncomfortable. I did like that he seemed to be the voice of reason for Pauline and Napoleon at times.

While I did enjoy this story and the look it gave me into these historical figures, I didn't feel an urgency while reading The Second Empress. I didn't feel the stress and fear at Napoleon's imminent downfall. Michelle Moran's writing was really engaging, but the characters put me off a bit.

My rating: 3 stars


  1. I'm kind of the opposite to you - I loved one of her adult books (Madame Tussaud) but only liked Cleopatra's Daughter. I have a review copy of Second Empress, so hopefully I will enjoy it. It's a shame it didn't quite work out for you.

  2. Pauline sounds really bad!!
    And Poor Maria Lucia!!! :(
    I had always heard that Napoleon was always in love with his first wife, so it must have been a really sad situation.

    Too bad the book wasn't as good as you expected, but at least it wasn't a total loss :)

  3. Interesting. I love that this is historical fiction; that's always a genre I feel is neglected. It kind of sucks that it wasn't as good as you hoped, but at least it was likable!