The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court by, Michelle Moran
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.
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.
Before I started this one I knew nothing about Marie Louise or honestly that much about Napoleon (I thought he was still married to Josephine when he was exiled), I recently started reading more about French history including Michelle Moran’s last book Madame Tussaud and the confessions of Catherine de Medici plus one about the Hapsburgs (The Last Queen) by, CW Gortner. So I am slowly learning more about these two timelines & royalty. As with any Historical Fiction an author is going to take some liberties and I for one don’t mind this at all, I want to read a historical fiction that will make me want to research the facts for myself and this one did that.
I felt sorry for Marie as I’ve said before, these poor princesses just can’t catch a break, trotted off to marry an ogre who just wants you as birthing mare, but as Marie said the sooner she got pregnant the less she had to deal with Napoleon. I was glad Marie’s life turned out for the best; I think the best thing that ever happened to her was when Napoleon was overthrown and exiled.
I was a bit freaked out and disgusted with Napoleon’s sister Pauline she had a very unhealthy relationship with her brother and she seemed to be a nymphomaniac and was a very selfish, just not a nice person at all. But her story was fascinating as she flounced from man to man, and used old women as footstools but one has to wonder how many men she gave the clap to??
And Paul let us not forget poor put-upon chamberlain Paul, his love for Pauline was all he could think of even as she took lover after lover but I also loved his ending *no spoilers* all I could think was it’s about time!
I really like the authenticity added by the actual letters written by Napoleon & Josephine that showed they still cared very much for each other right to the end. Napoleon was a piece of work, talk about an egomaniac but you have to give it to him he came from the bottom of the barrel and made to Emperor so I suppose he had a right to be proud of himself but he took it way over the line with how he talked to people and what he thought was his “by right”.
I love Michelle Moran’s writing always takes you to a place and time where you can almost smell it and this book was no exception. Can’t wait for more books by this author!
4 ½ stars
I received this book from the Librarything Early Reviewers Program