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National bestselling author Michelle Moran returns to Paris, this time under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as he casts aside his beautiful wife to marry a Hapsburg princess he hopes will bear him a royal heir 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 th National bestselling author Michelle Moran returns to Paris, this time under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as he casts aside his beautiful wife to marry a Hapsburg princess he hopes will bear him a royal heir 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.


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National bestselling author Michelle Moran returns to Paris, this time under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as he casts aside his beautiful wife to marry a Hapsburg princess he hopes will bear him a royal heir 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 th National bestselling author Michelle Moran returns to Paris, this time under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as he casts aside his beautiful wife to marry a Hapsburg princess he hopes will bear him a royal heir 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.

30 review for The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court

  1. 4 out of 5

    Iset

    Full disclosure: I was provided with an Advanced Reader Copy of the book by the publishers. I've read all of Moran's previous novels, and it's been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I didn't like her ancient Egypt novels at all - the protagonists were too one-dimensional, the plots were simplistic and implausible, she failed to capture the zeitgeist of the times, and all in all I was disappointed by how juvenile the writing was. Moran's previous novel, Madame Tussaud, offered a meatier plot, a more we Full disclosure: I was provided with an Advanced Reader Copy of the book by the publishers. I've read all of Moran's previous novels, and it's been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I didn't like her ancient Egypt novels at all - the protagonists were too one-dimensional, the plots were simplistic and implausible, she failed to capture the zeitgeist of the times, and all in all I was disappointed by how juvenile the writing was. Moran's previous novel, Madame Tussaud, offered a meatier plot, a more well-rounded and sympathetic protagonist, and although it could have been better, it was genuinely entertaining and an enjoyable read. I have to say, I think The Second Empress is Moran's best novel yet. Let's get some of the negatives out of the way. Early on there were signs of Moran's earlier style - there's a great big info dump, something which Moran hasn't been terribly good at writing in the past, and she makes a few sweeping generalisations here and there. Once or twice there are a couple of modernisms or Americanisms dropped in there - which did kinda jerk me out of the historical setting, but they were less than a handful in number and not a frequent event. There are a few historical inaccuracies - Moran discusses these in her Author's Note, but there are also one or two more that she doesn't mention. No spoilers, this is known historical fact: Maria-Lucia and Adam Neipperg didn't actually meet until after Napoleon's downfall, Maria-Lucia didn't find out about her impending marriage until about a month beforehand, Maria-Lucia didn't in fact gain the title of Duchess of Parma until 1816 rather than 1815 as in the novel, and after Napoleon's downfall she maintained a dutiful position towards him even though privately she had moved on (her grandmother Maria-Carolina, Marie-Antoinette's favourite sister, in fact expressed such disapproval of Maria-Lucia's "desertion" of Napoleon that, heart-breakingly, she writes of the incredibly difficult position she's in and admits to thinking sometimes that it would be better to die). These things aside, the novel is definitely good. Not that it's enthrallingly sublime or earth-shatteringly imaginative - few books are that good - but this is a considerable improvement over Moran's ancient Egypt novels, and I'd say it's a shade above Madame Tussaud. Not only does it get a lot right, which I'll discuss in a moment, but Moran has cut out a lot of the things that for me in the previous novels were really dragging them down. The juvenile style of writing is down to a minimum, the pointless name-dropping is completely eliminated, the info dumps are vastly reduced and the exposition is delivered far more smoothly, and there's a much greater understanding of context than previously. The main character is definitely more compelling than the rather flat, one-dimensional leads of the ancient Egypt novels, who always felt uncomfortably Mary-Sueish to me. Yes, Maria-Lucia is young, and does indeed begin the novel as a teenager, but she's well-formed. Maria-Lucia has a mind of her own, her own interests and goals in life, she's sensible and dutiful and yet not perfect and unbelievable, and her trials evoke sympathy from the reader. She doesn't like her husband, but she deals with her situation with class. She does leave behind a lover, but she doesn't spend undue time obsessing over him or pining away under a situation that she can't currently change and she has the reasonable hope of being finite - her taking of a lover before her marriage is less about "True Love FOREVER!!!"(TM) and more about exerting her own free will and pursuing happiness despite what society thinks but without running ahead of herself. There's no spouting of the twenty-first century mindset here. Maria-Lucia is incredibly appealing as a protagonist: she's both admirable and a plausible product of her times. A lot more time is being spent on the detailing and the set up than was previously. The characters are revealed piece by piece as the story unfolds, mainly through show and not tell. As a result, the setting seemed infinitely more real than Moran’s Egyptian novels, the people inhabiting it seemed more plausible and more individual – they had their own quirks, their own thoughts and opinions and unique perspective on the world. Pauline, who is one of the three narrators of the book alongside her chamberlain Paul Moreau and Maria-Lucia, is empathetic, even though she’s a selfish character with debatably disturbed desires. Why? Because she’s understandable. Her thought processes are made lucid and visible to us, and even though we may not agree with her conclusions, we can see how she got there. It's exactly this kind of character development skill that heads off the appearance of stock villains who are evil just because, and instead creates a much more realistic true-to-life portrait of complex human beings. It's hard to invest in the story of characters whose motivations we don't understand, so this kind of skill is key for an author. That said, I felt that Napoleon got the short end of the stick just a little bit. Because the scenes in the novel are highly selective, we don't get Napoleon's full story or get to see his full range as a personality. The strange thing was that the character development was done well, but I felt like I was just beginning to really know them well just as the story ended. This might be something to do with the length of the novel. I know it's rather standard these days to produce novels around the 300 page mark - and I rarely see books below that in length because any less and it seems to become difficult to package them as full length novels. I would've liked a longer book here though. It would have packed more into the plot, and I felt like Moran was really beginning to hit her stride with the characters and the world-building just when the threads started wrapping up and the book came to a close. Speaking of which, that brings me to the structure and the pacing of The Second Empress. I felt like quite a lot of time was spent on the beginning, setting up Maria-Lucia's marriage and then observing her early days of married life, and then in the second half of the novel there's a flurry of years passing, maybe three or four chapters per year, and then before I knew it I was at the end. This is another reason why I would have liked to have seen a longer book here. I felt like the perfect amount of time was spent on those early days, it was just the right amount of set up, I was getting into the story, it was engrossing, and then whoosh those latter years just flew by. A longer novel could have packed a lot more plot into those latter years, and I would have really liked to have read more about it. This sensation of a flurry over the later years and events is enhanced by the format of the novel. The novel is written throughout in first person, through the alternating perspectives of Maria-Lucia, Pauline, and Paul, and scenes are conveyed through their individual perspectives. Rather than a packed narrative, we get chapters that feel like episodes, anecdotes, snippets from these three characters' lives, moments in time, fragments, scenes which show us an interesting glimpse into what is going on and who this character is, but which then end and then we sweep ahead to another scene that occurs some time later. This doesn't occur in a disjointed way at all - the scenes feel very selective, and this format is deliberate, and it is interesting and entertaining - but it does also mean that we miss out certain events and skim over certain things and don't get the whole story, which contributes to the feeling I got that the second part of the novel passes in a flurry, whilst I wanted to slow it down and spend more time on these parts - which a lengthier novel would have had room for. Overall, a few issues, but a considerable improvement, genuinely entertaining and enjoyable with smoother writing, good character development, and interesting plot. 6 out of 10.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    This is well written, interesting, well researched and fun. Napoleon and family were very weird.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Where I got the book: electronic ARC from Edelweiss. I don't think I've read a novel about Napoleon (this one doesn't really count) since Désirée , so Moran gets points for tackling what feels to me like a neglected historical niche (unless there's a whole slew of Napoleon books I don't know about somewhere). This story covers the latter part of the French Emperor's reign, when Napoleon starts getting dynastic ambitions and divorces Joséphine so that he can bring in Austrian princess Marie-Lou Where I got the book: electronic ARC from Edelweiss. I don't think I've read a novel about Napoleon (this one doesn't really count) since Désirée , so Moran gets points for tackling what feels to me like a neglected historical niche (unless there's a whole slew of Napoleon books I don't know about somewhere). This story covers the latter part of the French Emperor's reign, when Napoleon starts getting dynastic ambitions and divorces Joséphine so that he can bring in Austrian princess Marie-Louise as a brood mare. And then decides that it would be a really good idea to invade Russia.... The story is told from the point of view of three characters: the aforesaid Austrian princess, Napoleon's sister Pauline, and her Haitian chamberlain Paul Moreau. And that, for me, is the biggest flaw in the book, and it's a doozy. Let's just run over the plot lines, which are quite juicy in themselves. Marie-Louise is coerced into marriage with Napoleon by the threat of what he could otherwise do to the defeated Hapsburg empire; she leaves her home, her family, her lover, her beloved dog and even her name (Maria Lucia) behind to win over a hostile court and country. Pauline has the hots for her successful brother and a weird obsession with Egypt that leads her to conclude that she and Napoleon should marry and rule Pharaoh-style, a notion probably exacerbated by creeping insanity brought on by venereal disease, a consequence of her promiscuous lifestyle, and her total self-obsession. Paul loves Pauline, and for that reason has left his beloved, war-torn Haiti to follow her to France; he dreams of returning with Pauline to end slavery in the French Empire and resolve his own conflicts as a mulatto intellectual who wins little acceptance in his native land or his adopted one. The lynchpin of these three lives is Napoleon, of whom we get the standard portrait: the vain, slightly unhinged genius who takes his ambitions one country too far and falls victim to his own legend. Can we see how much is going on in this book? It would take an absolute genius to carry off this tripartite POV structure under the weight of so much history, and Moran isn't that genius. So she falls back on a humdrum chronological structure, switching POV by rote so that no one story really dominates (the title and blurb are, I would imagine, the publisher's attempt to hook the reader by emphasizing the most sympathetic of these three rather unlikeable characters). Worse still, the voices of all three characters are EXACTLY the same, and I kept having to refer to the chapter headings to see who was speaking. This book absolutely cries out a) to be written from a single POV and b) to find some real conflict between the various plot lines instead of just running them more or less side by side. The threads are there, but they aren't woven into something that can carry any weight, especially not the weight of an elephant-sized chunk of French history. From a technical standpoint the writing's not at all bad: Moran carries off the trendy first-person present tense with ease, and the narrative flows along nicely even if it's lacking in fizz. Her historical choices seem plausible to this non-picky reader; she creates sufficient doubt about Pauline's sanity to leave the question of whether brother and sister actually slept together hanging in the air for further debate. My personal opinion, for what it's worth, is that it was all in Pauline's head; I have never had the impression that Napoleon went that far, and maybe the fascination he held for his contemporaries was precisely his ability to stick like glue to the fine line between genius and insanity. If I'd been able to choose a POV I probably would have gone for Pauline's, as the worthy Marie-Louise and the faithful Paul seemed a little wishy-washy beside her extravagance and she's a perfect candidate for an unreliable narrator. Verdict: a good try, but it didn't quite come together for me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    *sigh* It seems as though Michelle Moran's novels are hit or miss for me. I absolutely loved Madame Tussaud and Cleopatra's Daughter, but cared little for Nefertiti or The Heretic Queen. Unfortunately The Second Empress will be joining the latter category, very disappointing. The Second Empress has a number of issues, including the way in which it was told. Moran chose to have three narrators, alternating. I felt this was absolutely unnecessary. Marie Louise (the actual second Empress), Napoleon' *sigh* It seems as though Michelle Moran's novels are hit or miss for me. I absolutely loved Madame Tussaud and Cleopatra's Daughter, but cared little for Nefertiti or The Heretic Queen. Unfortunately The Second Empress will be joining the latter category, very disappointing. The Second Empress has a number of issues, including the way in which it was told. Moran chose to have three narrators, alternating. I felt this was absolutely unnecessary. Marie Louise (the actual second Empress), Napoleon's sister Pauline and her chamberlain Paul all tell the story. First of all, Paul was pointless and I felt it caused entirely too much focus to continue upon Pauline. In essence this is more the story of creepy sister Pauline and her brother Napoleon. Marie Louise had potential as a character but I felt she fell flat while Pauline came through more vividly (and crazily). Moran seems to have taken many liberties with situations and Marie Louise's character, as historical sources seem to paint her in quite a different light. Once again the novel focuses more on "palace" intrigue and personal drama than any historical dealings of the time, much like in The Heretic Queen. The characters are largely flat and tedious and the randomly included actual letters did not even help this. In fact, the letters felt out of place and forced while also pointing out the fact that if the novel were more authentic the writing would have been entirely different for the time. All in all I found the entire book rather frustratingly annoying and I was hoping for more of a historical feel. I know Moran is capable of capturing the feel of France and key historical times, as shown in Madame Tussaud, but The Second Empress is simply not one of them. The title is also ill-fitting since it focuses more on Pauline than any other character in my opinion. **Note: If you have never cared for Napoleon before, you won't after this one. I have absolutely never cared for Napoleon and have largely avoided HF in this time period and country for that reason. But while I do dislike Napoleon, his character in this novel is flat and feels more like it reflects propaganda than a real person at many times. Disclosure: ARC received from Netgalley & publisher in exchange for an honest review. (They may regret this.) Any and all quotes were taken from an advanced edition subject to change in the final edition.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rio (Lynne)

    3.5 Stars I enjoyed this book. Like Moran's other novels, it was easy and light to read. It was full of history, but at the same time not heavily detailed. Moran focused more on the relationships than the actual political wars. This being my first read on Napoleon, I wasn't sure of how accurate it was. I didn't want to google until I finished. Other's have mentioned in their reviews that this wasn't accurate, but from what I have now searched, except for some minor things (dates, etc...which the 3.5 Stars I enjoyed this book. Like Moran's other novels, it was easy and light to read. It was full of history, but at the same time not heavily detailed. Moran focused more on the relationships than the actual political wars. This being my first read on Napoleon, I wasn't sure of how accurate it was. I didn't want to google until I finished. Other's have mentioned in their reviews that this wasn't accurate, but from what I have now searched, except for some minor things (dates, etc...which the author mentions in her notes) it seemed pretty close to history. This book covers Napoleon's last 7 years. Marie Louise from Austria was forced into marrying Napoleon. Like many royal marriages, she did not want to marry him, but had to so her father could keep his crown. Napoleon's first wife Josephine could not give him a son, so he divorced her and it became Marie's place. The story is told through three people, Marie, Pauline (Napoleon's beautiful sister) and Paul (Pauline's best friend and Haitian servant.) Pauline and Napoleon were suspected of having an incestuous relationship. Pauline's insane antics kept me turning the pages. Moran does a good job of showing you the strong and vulnerable side to each character. I recommend this to those who are just learning about this era. If you are very familiar with it, you might find it too light. That is why I am going with 3.5 stars. It was missing some depth, but overall an enjoyable read. Marie Louise Pauline Bonaparte Princess Borghese

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brittany B.

    What an incredibly pleasant surprise! I ended up loving this book! I have little interest in Napoleon up till now, but this book has sparked great curiosity. How did this family become so damned dysfunctional!? (And they really are a messed up crew!) Between Napoleon and his sister Paulina, there is constant insanity in this book! Both are selfish, suspicion, jealous, very cruel, and conniving. Napoleon's greed brings him down, as we know. And Paulina's nymphomania seems the culprit for her demis What an incredibly pleasant surprise! I ended up loving this book! I have little interest in Napoleon up till now, but this book has sparked great curiosity. How did this family become so damned dysfunctional!? (And they really are a messed up crew!) Between Napoleon and his sister Paulina, there is constant insanity in this book! Both are selfish, suspicion, jealous, very cruel, and conniving. Napoleon's greed brings him down, as we know. And Paulina's nymphomania seems the culprit for her demise. Lol. I'm serious. Together the two feed off their shared ambition and perhaps even shared lust. Yep... It is one heck of a story. Lastly I don't want to leave out the book's namesake, Marie Louise of Austria, who was the grand-niece of Marie Antoinette. Napoleon picked her for her noble blood and ability to have children. Obviously it is deeply ironic that the Queen of England was beheaded during the revolution, and 20 years later, her grandniece is named "Empress of France" by the very leader instrumental in the new government during/post revolution. As a character in this book, I loved Marie Louise. I was extremely impressed by her sense of duty, her strength and her fortitude. She was remarkable in the way she handled the forced marriage to Bonaparte, who was a pig of a husband!! One thing I really appreciated is that Moran's depiction of the characters was layered. Napoleon was not always bad, his sister not always a total b*tch. And we learn that in their younger years, they both had the capacity to be loving and kind. The story made me eager to read more about the revolution and the decade of Napoleon's rule. Highly recommended! Especially if you only know only a little about Napoleon. It whets your appetite and sets the stage to learn the rest of the story of this infamous French conqueror. --Included in the story are a few of Napoleon's letters to Josephine, his long time wife who was famous for cuckolding him....

  7. 4 out of 5

    Yeny

    The Second Empress focused on the last few years of Napoleon’s reign. The author looked at this chaotic period through 3 people with different views – Pauline, Paul and Marie-Louise. After reading this book, I came to realize that I know so little about Napoleon’s rise and fall. After reading this book, I also felt that this book did not help me gain more insights to Napoleon’s rise and fall. The book is easy to read and fast paced. But it left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. No substance The Second Empress focused on the last few years of Napoleon’s reign. The author looked at this chaotic period through 3 people with different views – Pauline, Paul and Marie-Louise. After reading this book, I came to realize that I know so little about Napoleon’s rise and fall. After reading this book, I also felt that this book did not help me gain more insights to Napoleon’s rise and fall. The book is easy to read and fast paced. But it left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. No substance - after 300 pages, I felt “empty.” Perhaps the author was trying to simplify a very complicated period of time. During this simplifying process, a lot of nuances and details were lost so the characters seemed one-dimensional – Napoleon was a brute, Pauline was crazy, and Marie-Louise deserved sympathy. But, I think to myself, these were unusual people at an unusual time! They can’t be this simple and straightforward. Hence, my dissatisfaction. I can’t say I dislike the story because it has a certain “gossip” quality to it that made me keep reading. The book was very easy to read but somehow, after reading it, I just didn’t feel that good. (Ah… it sounds like eating junk food…) The good thing about reading this book is that I am now interested in reading the real history of the Bonaparte family and find out what really happened!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Marie

    Pauline is delusional. I have no words for Napoleon than history hasn't already given him. Maria Lucia is everything and I'm so glad she was able to live her life the way she wanted, in the end. Paul was fascinating. The Bonapartes were truly something (something I wouldn't touch with a 99-1/2ft pole, but there we are). Shifted shelves because while this was a novel of Napoleon's court and they were in France for much of the book, it was very clear from the beginning that this was Maria Lucia's Pauline is delusional. I have no words for Napoleon than history hasn't already given him. Maria Lucia is everything and I'm so glad she was able to live her life the way she wanted, in the end. Paul was fascinating. The Bonapartes were truly something (something I wouldn't touch with a 99-1/2ft pole, but there we are). Shifted shelves because while this was a novel of Napoleon's court and they were in France for much of the book, it was very clear from the beginning that this was Maria Lucia's story and she is decidedly not French.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    As with my last read, I'm really debating over a two- or three-star rating. I might change this one a couple times. Why? Because as much as I can't get over "The Second Empress"'s many flaws, it ended up being a little addictive. (Much like Moran's super flawed "Nefertiti".) "The Second Empress" tells the tale of a chunk of history I know very little about: Napoleon's reign, and specifically his second marriage. Truth be told, I didn't even know the name of Napoleon's second wife until I heard ab As with my last read, I'm really debating over a two- or three-star rating. I might change this one a couple times. Why? Because as much as I can't get over "The Second Empress"'s many flaws, it ended up being a little addictive. (Much like Moran's super flawed "Nefertiti".) "The Second Empress" tells the tale of a chunk of history I know very little about: Napoleon's reign, and specifically his second marriage. Truth be told, I didn't even know the name of Napoleon's second wife until I heard about this novel. Let's be honest: Marie-Louise is hardly the interesting Bonaparte woman. Not compared to Napoleon's flamboyant sister Pauline (a narrator here) or his great love Josephine. See, now I have to look out for a good book centered on Napoleon's first marriage--because it's clear that the true passion of his life was with Josephine (and what an interesting marriage they had). Okay, so: I'm going to tackle the bad here first, because there is a lot of it. Although I'm no expert on Napoleon's reign, some quick research has revealed that while this novel lacks many glaring inaccuracies, the characterization of Marie-Louise was, as I suspected, a bit off. Here she's presented as the morally upright yet strong-willed and smart (*cough*self-righteous*cough*) wronged woman, disgusted with Napoleon and his Evil Family. In reality, Marie-Louise seemed much more conflicted and even somewhat loyal to Napoleon. It seems that though he was at the end of the day a brute, he treated her fairly well. (Moran also inserts Marie-Louise's future paramour into the book way before he ever came into the real picture. Which seems like a bit of a cop-out, if you ask me.) A more realistic and compelling Marie-Louise, a conflicted Marie-Louise, would have been a welcome break from this narrator. It's not that I didn't like her. I just wasn't overly attached to her. She knew what was wrong and what was right, never really strayed from the path, and cast Napoleon as the villain of her life. And maybe he was! But I would have related more to a woman who was drawn in by Napoleon's web of lies as was everyone else around him. See, what Moran misses in THAT characterization (that of Napoleon's) was that the guy, despite what his portraits may imply, was incredibly charismatic. People don't just follow a nobody from Italy for no reason. He was also quite brilliant, a fact that Moran chooses to tell without showing. I mean, I get that the novel centers more on his weaker years, but the guy had to get to a seat of absolute power somehow, right? Another issue is the inclusion of the narration of Paul Moreau, Pauline Bonaparte's chamberlain. Frankly, I don't know what to think about this. I can't help but feel that the novel would have been stronger if it had focused on Marie-Louise and Pauline, their contrasts and their rivalry. (The rivalry touted in the book's jacket never really came to be, as the two characters barely interact.) While I enjoyed Paul's narration and his complex relationship with Pauline, he kind of got on my last nerve towards the end. (Mainly because he propelled a large part of the novel's ambition = evil + slut-shaming undertone. I don't think that Moran was going for this, so I give her the benefit of the doubt.) The book's way too short in general and ends just when the party is getting started. The wrong things are given emphasis (Paul and Pauline's relationship vs. Marie-Louise/Napoleon or Napoleon/Pauline or hell, Pauline/Marie-Louise). Also, Moran's writing in general, though improving, has its moments of "meh"-ness. She info-dumps a lot and tends towards a very modern tone with some anachronistic language. Wait, you say. What about the good? Well, "The Second Empress" has a sort of bodice-rippery feel--without graphic sex, unfortunately--that reminds me of a cotton candy. It's not good for you, but it's fun. And the main thing that makes the novel fun is Pauline. Pauline! I knew I'd like her and her delusional, incestuous ways as soon as the novel began. I wish I'd seen more of her. Yes, there are a lot of problems with her characterization too--we never really got to the meat of her and there was this unfortunate tendency to equate her promiscuity with badness. However, she still managed to charm with her crazy. Furthermore, Moran's strongest when she delves into Pauline and Napoleon's relationship. There should have been more of that. Their desperate devotion to one another and resulting conflict fascinates. As does, of course, the unending presence of Josephine in Napoleon's life. Josephine isn't really a character, but she does make an appearance through her correspondence with Napoleon. All of this drives him Moran's point: that nobody, not even Pauline, could top Josephine. Could this thing have been improved upon? YES. I wouldn't spend money on it. However, it's a fun little romp. If, you know. You're willing to shut down your brain and ignore all its issues. I'm still debating this rating.

  10. 4 out of 5

    MAP

    This book follows the last 6 or so years of Napoleon’s reign, from the point of view of his second wife, his sister, and his sister’s chamberlain. The POVs vary from interesting to boring (Wife->sister->chamberlain) and likable to unlikable (Wife->chamberlain->sister), but as this was a period of history I know less about, I found it enjoyable and appreciated the historical note at the end. I know I have more Michelle Morans on my bookshelf and will probably gravitate towards them soon.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mo

    Thanksgiving is next week. My sister is arriving in three days and we’ll be busy with some planned activities. On Dec 8th I am having surgery done on my hand, which will then be useless for 4 – 6 weeks. Christmas is coming on fast, and I have nothing done… no cards written, no gifts purchased, and the house is not decorated. And I have been reading ‘The Second Empress’ for what seems to be FOREVER. So even though there were TONS of other things I should have been doing, I set myself a deadline an Thanksgiving is next week. My sister is arriving in three days and we’ll be busy with some planned activities. On Dec 8th I am having surgery done on my hand, which will then be useless for 4 – 6 weeks. Christmas is coming on fast, and I have nothing done… no cards written, no gifts purchased, and the house is not decorated. And I have been reading ‘The Second Empress’ for what seems to be FOREVER. So even though there were TONS of other things I should have been doing, I set myself a deadline and FORCED myself to finish reading this damn book club book. THANK GOD I am finally done with it and I can cross it off the list. The problem for me with historical fiction is that so much of what is written in these types of books are opinions and not facts. Even when facts are known, authors still will change dates, invent occurrences, tell us what these people were “thinking”. I’ve really lost patience with most of the genre, because it makes me crazy not knowing how much of a book is nothing more than a complete fabrication. (view spoiler)[Case in point: The author writes / contends that Marie-Louise and Count Adam von Neipperg were lovers before her 1810 marriage to Napoleon, when in fact they briefly met for the first time in 1812, and did not become intimate until after her return to Austria in 1814. So the author’s assertion that Marie-Louise was not a virgin at the time of her marriage was a complete invention. Her assertion that this was some longstanding grand passion between the two of them was complete nonsense, especially in light of Neipperg’s remarks after he was assigned to be her escort to Parma. When Neipperg received his commission to act as Marie-Louise’s escort and companion, he was living with his wife Teresa Pola at Milan. He remarked, with cynical frankness: “Before six months I shall be her lover, and, later on, her husband.” How can you mess around with KNOWN dates and occurrences, and change them to suit the spin you want to put on your story? Things like this make me NUTS, and I start to question the validity of the entire book. (hide spoiler)] I did not care for the author’s portrayal of any of the historical characters in this novel, as I thought they were all one-dimensional and the author’s bias came shining through. I have always greatly admired Napoleon, and I felt that this was not a kind treatment of him, nor an accurate one. As with most great historical figures, there was good in him and there was bad, and the author chose to present mostly the bad. (view spoiler)[Napoleon was not just the uncouth, dictatorial lout as portrayed. Indeed, after he married Marie Louise, he started to attend formal dinners; he changed his habit of wearing mostly shabby uniforms, and even attempted to learn to waltz. He was an attentive father, and paid his wife every courtesy. Most accounts I’ve read indicated that he grew to esteem Marie Louise and that the marriage was a success. After the birth of his son he is quoted as saying "I had rather never have any more children than see her suffer so much again." And nowhere else could I find any information substantiating the claim that Napoleon had once shoved his wife’s face into a plate of food. For goodness sake, this man was such a charismatic and commanding figure that he was able to win over much of the French populace after he escaped from Elba! There was obviously much more to Napoleon than the author chose to reveal. (hide spoiler)] My final thought… why in the world was this book titled ‘The Second Empress’ when she shared equal billing with Pauline Borghese nee Bonaparte and Paul Moreau (who’s sections of the book I found to be a complete snooze fest). Read with SBC book club November 2014

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    The Second Empress is set in the court of Napoleon Bonaparte, after his divorce from Josephine, and until his defeat at Waterloo. It is not a novel exclusively about the "second empress" - that is, Napoleon's second wife, Maria-Lucia of Austria (Marie-Louise). This novel spans many years, and is told from the perspective of Empress Maria-Lucia, Napoleon's sister Pauline, and her servant Paul. However, for an "historical" novel, major events (especially the politically-motivated ones) are frustra The Second Empress is set in the court of Napoleon Bonaparte, after his divorce from Josephine, and until his defeat at Waterloo. It is not a novel exclusively about the "second empress" - that is, Napoleon's second wife, Maria-Lucia of Austria (Marie-Louise). This novel spans many years, and is told from the perspective of Empress Maria-Lucia, Napoleon's sister Pauline, and her servant Paul. However, for an "historical" novel, major events (especially the politically-motivated ones) are frustratingly skimmed over. For example, Napoleon's time in Russia - a major turning point of his reign - was dealt with in a matter of a couple of chapters, told from the point of view of people who weren't even there, about how all they can do is pine and wait for the emperor to return. I mean, really? How does that constitute a story? It actually felt as though Moran either couldn't be bothered to do the research, or couldn't be bothered to create a story from it. Perhaps both. Although not a lengthy novel, I really struggled to get through it, simply because description, in every aspect, is lacking. The characters are flat, one-dimensional and lifeless. Events are so poorly described they are dull and not at all interesting, made worse by the fact that Moran follows a rigid timeline of "this happened, and then that happened" etc. Overall, I found this to be a really bland read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jo Anne B

    The best part of this book was all the history of Napoleon Bonaparte. I think the author lured readers into this book by putting a woman on the front cover but she wasn't even the focus of the book, whereas Napoleon and his sister Pauline were. I did not like how the story was told by three narrators alternating each chapter. These were Napoelon's wife the Empress Maria-Lucia, his sister Pauline, and Pauline's servant Paul that loved her. I thought Paul's narration was pointless and made the sto The best part of this book was all the history of Napoleon Bonaparte. I think the author lured readers into this book by putting a woman on the front cover but she wasn't even the focus of the book, whereas Napoleon and his sister Pauline were. I did not like how the story was told by three narrators alternating each chapter. These were Napoelon's wife the Empress Maria-Lucia, his sister Pauline, and Pauline's servant Paul that loved her. I thought Paul's narration was pointless and made the story focus more on Pauline rather than the Empress, who was supposed to be the focus of the book per its title. I wanted more of her internal monologue, emotions, and feelings. Instead most of the book was about Pauline's slew of STDs and her desire to be her brother's wife. Other than that it was pretty shallow reading. It did make me look up the history of Napoleon and enjoy much discussion about him as well as prove how truthful the author was. This is the first book I read by this author and I will read her others which get a better rating. I am a sucker for well-written historical fiction novels with a bit of passion thrown in for pleasure.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Read It Forward

    Michelle Moran is my favorite historical fiction writer - her novels are so sexy and smart. She's great at fleshing out those little-known characters that help her tell a much larger story. I'm always left a little obsessed after reading one of her novels, and The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court is no exception. Now I have to read more about Napoleonic France. And I'm especially obsessed with Napoleon's sister Pauline Borghese. You will be too! Michelle Moran is my favorite historical fiction writer - her novels are so sexy and smart. She's great at fleshing out those little-known characters that help her tell a much larger story. I'm always left a little obsessed after reading one of her novels, and The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court is no exception. Now I have to read more about Napoleonic France. And I'm especially obsessed with Napoleon's sister Pauline Borghese. You will be too!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Natasa

    I enjoyed this book very much. The various viewpoints offered as the book progressed made the story richly enjoyable, as well as giving a whole picture to this turbulent historical time.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    While I don't claim to be an expert on French history, I enjoyed reading how one author saw the times based on her assessment of what she gathered to support her story line. The Second Empress was an intense, well-written novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. I found it very intriguing for a variety of reasons. For one, it held my attention because of the rich historical setting and many details included in each chapter. Even though the story was set in early 1800s France, in some ways the scenario M While I don't claim to be an expert on French history, I enjoyed reading how one author saw the times based on her assessment of what she gathered to support her story line. The Second Empress was an intense, well-written novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. I found it very intriguing for a variety of reasons. For one, it held my attention because of the rich historical setting and many details included in each chapter. Even though the story was set in early 1800s France, in some ways the scenario Moran portrayed reminded me of the downfall of Rome centuries earlier. Napoleon had many excesses and eccentricities; the relationship with his sister being the most disturbing. His family had to be the poster child for dysfunction in that day, especially when it came to marriage and infidelity. It seemed married people had more contact with lovers than spouses in Napoleon's court. Since that was the way of things, I didn't find it surprising that venereal disease was commonplace for promiscuous courtiers. At the time they didn't know how to cure it, so people suffered horribly from a variety of ineffective treatments including the use of Mercury. I find European history quite fascinating from the Middle Ages all the way through modern times. In The Second Empress I appreciated the many historical details included by the author as well as reading the letters that supported portions of the plot. I have always empathized with people who were forced to marry to preserve kingdom and country. I enjoy reading things like the "afterward" at the end of a historical novel and the supporting facts from history that a novel includes. Yes, event weird activities like women being used as human footstools was documented, so Moran included a scene in the book with that exact scenario. From reading this novel I can't help but conclude that the entire Bonaparte family was power hungry and incredibly selfish. The author portrayed that well. All in all this was an engaging novel that fascinated me with its depth. I had a hard time putting it down. I appreciated how the author used a variety of perspectives to show different situations that troubled Marie-Louise (The Second Empress) and others during that tumultuous time period. Lovers of historical fiction will enjoy reading this book. Whether all the historical facts are true or not? Well, I always keep in mind that this is fiction.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anita

    This was one of those novels where I couldn't wait for a quiet hour so I could read what happens next. What will the vicious Pauline do to embarrass Marie-Louise and will Queen Caroline show herself up as a Corsican peasant beneath all her furs? The story doesn’t get bogged down with military manoeuvrings, territorial claims or battles either, all of which tend to happen in the background, but concentrates on the dynamics of Napoleon’s court and the women who vie for his attention. Napoleon doesn This was one of those novels where I couldn't wait for a quiet hour so I could read what happens next. What will the vicious Pauline do to embarrass Marie-Louise and will Queen Caroline show herself up as a Corsican peasant beneath all her furs? The story doesn’t get bogged down with military manoeuvrings, territorial claims or battles either, all of which tend to happen in the background, but concentrates on the dynamics of Napoleon’s court and the women who vie for his attention. Napoleon doesn't like women plump or tall, and sumptuous gowns, jewels and pretty women proliferate, which tallies with the early nineteenth century belief that females were considered weak minded, and only capable of functioning as ornamental consorts for their husbands. When Marie-Louise is told she is to marry Napoleon, the greasy Prince Metternich says she'll have more furs and jewellery than any ruler in Europe – as if bling made up for his lack of breeding. The novel is written throughout in first person, through the alternating points of view of Maria-Lucia, Pauline, and Pauline's Haitian chamberlain, Paul. I found this distracting at first, as once or twice it is not explained whose PoV we were in, so could be confusing, but give a different perspective of the characters. Although the immoral, and outrageous Pauline is not a pleasant character, I couldn’t help admiring her ruthless determination to have her way, the depths she was willing to plunge to obtain it despite her own declining health. I’m English, so Napoleon painted as a callous megalomaniac whom absolute power has corrupted absolutely – and who strives to be more royal than the royals by giving all his siblings crowns, and spends more money on pageants and pomp than the Emperors of Rome ever did; was what I was taught in school and I’m not willing to change my opinion now! This is a fascinating, well-crafted and enjoyable novel which gives a different perspective on Napoleon’s later years. One chilling passage which was taken from his letters, many to Josephine after their divorce, was his report from Russia that half a million Frenchmen had been killed, but writes in the third person that: 'The Emperor's health could not be better!' A monster indeed. The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    The Second Empress is the story of an ambitious Emperor and the women who surround him during a volatile time in French history. Since I was a teenager, I have had an infatuation with the love affair that was Napoleon and Josephine. I have read many books that contain their love letters and have found them and their story fascinating. I never gave much thought to the other women in his life. This book brought those women to light. Told from various character perspectives, all of which are outstand The Second Empress is the story of an ambitious Emperor and the women who surround him during a volatile time in French history. Since I was a teenager, I have had an infatuation with the love affair that was Napoleon and Josephine. I have read many books that contain their love letters and have found them and their story fascinating. I never gave much thought to the other women in his life. This book brought those women to light. Told from various character perspectives, all of which are outstanding, the Second Empress, Marie-Louise, comes to the foreground in this sweeping tale. Pauline, Napoleon's sister, is a constant in his life. Someone he turns to and that is faithful to him to a fault. Josephine, cast aside for want of an heir to the throne, remains his one true love. Marie-Louise, the Second Empress, comes to him, bound by duty to her own family, never to love or even respect the man who seeks to control all of Europe. The author does a tremendous job mixing history and storytelling to weave an intricate tale spanning the last 6 years of Napoleon's reign. The pace is quick which made it a fast read I had a hard time setting aside. Sometimes, with historical novels, too much detail weighs the story down. Not in this case. The author does a wonderful job giving enough detail to make the story come to life and uses enough discretion not to cause an overkill of the senses. The reader gets a sense of who these people are, where they have come from and where they are going and why. If you're a fan of historical fiction, this one is a must read!!!!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laurie • The Baking Bookworm

    This review, as well as many more, can also be found on my blog www.thebakingbookworm.blogspot.ca. Synopsis: The terror of the French Revolution is still fresh in the minds and hearts of France when Napoleon is at his peak of power in the late 1800's. A ruthless and powerful ruler Napoleon is feared by many but there is one thing that Napoleon still needs. An heir. After Josephine's downfall Napoleon is focused more than ever on having a legitimate heir for his empire. He casts aside Josephine and This review, as well as many more, can also be found on my blog www.thebakingbookworm.blogspot.ca. Synopsis: The terror of the French Revolution is still fresh in the minds and hearts of France when Napoleon is at his peak of power in the late 1800's. A ruthless and powerful ruler Napoleon is feared by many but there is one thing that Napoleon still needs. An heir. After Josephine's downfall Napoleon is focused more than ever on having a legitimate heir for his empire. He casts aside Josephine and sets his sights on eighteen year old Maria-Lucia, the daughter of the Austrian king and the great-niece of the infamous Marie Antoinette. Maria-Lucia has lived a quiet, idyllic life with her family. She is well educated and spends her time painting and looking forward to marrying than man she loves. She is therefore shocked when Napoleon 'honours' her by requesting her hand in marriage. Maria-Lucia has a wonderful life in Austria but to ensure her family and country's safety in these tumultuous times she decides to do her duty and marry the ruthless, power hungry leader. When she arrives in France, Marie-Louise (as she is now called) is shocked at the decadence of the French court and the rancorous personality of her new husband. Despite her fears she is adamant that she will be a good wife despite her husband's flamboyant and ruthless reputation. She quickly learns that she has enemies in the French court, namely the women who dominate her new husband's life - his former wife and true love, Josephine and Napoleon's sisters Caroline and Pauline. Pauline has a very peculiar relationship with her brother and is fiercely loyal to him. She has always pictured ruling Egypt alongside her powerful brother just as the ancient pharaohs once did and doesn't take kindly to Marie-Louise's interruption in her plans. As Napoleon's need for power reasserts itself war is on the horizon again and this time it threatens Marie-Louise's homeland and family. She decides to use the power that she has been given and takes matters into her own hands to ensure the safety of those she loves. My Thoughts: I know I've said it before but Michelle Moran continues to be one of my favourite historical fiction authors. So it should come as no surprise that I was more than thrilled (I 'may' have done a happy dance) when I was given an ARC to review for this upcoming book. Although "The Second Empress" feels a little lighter in detail and length than her previous works I had no trouble delving into the lives of this very famous and highly dysfunctional family. Once again Ms Moran provides her readers with a riveting fact-based historical read that was hard to put down. Although this is a historical read it is not weighted down with too much detail and tended to be very character driven. The main character, Marie-Louise is a dignified, brave and sympathetic main character who you can't help but like. Here's this young girl who has her life planned out and is looking forward to a quiet life with the man she loves. Suddenly this infamous tyrant comes into her life who basically only wants to rent out her uterus. Their wedding is done by proxy (ahhh, l'amour) and Mary-Louise's life is thrown off course. Marie-Louise is a total contrast to the conniving Pauline Bonaparte who would give everything (yes, everything) she has to be in Marie-Louise's shoes. She is a vile woman whose obsession with her own brother and increasing the Bonaparte family's power knows no end. Napoleon is portrayed as I've always pictured him - a power hungry, egotistical and temperamental {little} man who is out to prove himself. He's prone to embarrassing the women in his life, he's difficult to please and with his mercurial disposition no one knows what he'll do next. Yet, Moran delves even further into his personality quirks giving me a much better picture of him as a person. Yes, he's all those things that I just described but you also see a more human/weak side to him as well. Here's a guy who is hopelessly in love with Josephine yet cannot be with her if he wants an heir. We also get a glimpse of his fear and weakness which intrigued me. He's a ruthless military dynamo who is not as brave as you'd think and is so in fear of those around him not being true to him. He NEEDED to be the foremost thought in his family and followers' lives -- even Josephine whom he cast off. He is this powerful man who is so obsessed and overly attached to the main women in his life that it's almost sad. I was almost to the point of having the teensiest bit of sympathy for the wee man. Almost. While I realize that this book focuses more in the relationships of the Bonaparte family I would have loved to see more of his strategic military thinking and to see how and why so many people followed Napoleon. What was his true motivation for conquering everything in his path? How did he become so twisted and power hungry? There are many characters in this book but the reader is told the story using the points of view of three people -- Marie-Louise, Pauline Bonaparte and Pauline's Haitian chamberlain, Paul. I think that giving the story three viewpoints helped me better understand the storyline but unfortunately I didn't feel like I got to know Pauline or Marie-Louise as well as I would have hoped. Paul gave an interesting point of view especially since he's torn between his love for Pauline and his growing compassion for Marie-Louise but I never really took to him. I had a hard time believing that power hungry Napoleon took the time to ask the advice of a 'lowly' servant. Plus, I don't think it helped that I just never saw what he saw in Pauline. Overall, this was a fairly quick, yet engaging character-driven read that kept me interested the entire way through the craziness that is the Bonaparte family. As someone who knew little of Napoleon I found it easy to follow along (and learn a bit in the process) with the general storyline. While it is a shorter book than I'm used to from this author it did give me a good insight into that era. If you haven't picked up a book by Ms Moran before I highly recommend "Nefertiti". Also, as a little background French Revolution history lesson I'd suggest reading "Madame Tussaud" by this author. It's not necessary but that era is referred to in this story so having that information in the back of my mind helped me understand the terror that influenced France's history. My Rating: 4/5 stars Note: My sincere thanks to Michelle Moran and Crown Publishing Group for providing me with this Advanced Reading Copy for my honest review.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laura Tenfingers

    I found this book to be readable but I didn't connect with any of the characters nor did I get a sense of place or feeling for the setting. It was also barely about the second empress like the title suggests. Two thirds of the story and PoVs were about Napoleon's psycho sister! She was probably the only slightly developed character but not who I wanted to read about. Shame. This is my second uninspiring Moran book and probably my last. I found this book to be readable but I didn't connect with any of the characters nor did I get a sense of place or feeling for the setting. It was also barely about the second empress like the title suggests. Two thirds of the story and PoVs were about Napoleon's psycho sister! She was probably the only slightly developed character but not who I wanted to read about. Shame. This is my second uninspiring Moran book and probably my last.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Traci

    Disclosure: I received a free proof copy of The Second Empress through a First Reads giveaway in exchange for a review. This story is told from the points of view of three characters: Marie-Louise, the Empress of France; her sister-in-law, Pauline Bonaparte; and Pauline's chamberlain, Paul (originally Antoine, but renamed at Pauline's command). Napoleon is divorcing his first wife, Josephine, and on the hunt for a new bride. He chooses a Hapsburg princess, Maria Lucia, seemingly against everyone Disclosure: I received a free proof copy of The Second Empress through a First Reads giveaway in exchange for a review. This story is told from the points of view of three characters: Marie-Louise, the Empress of France; her sister-in-law, Pauline Bonaparte; and Pauline's chamberlain, Paul (originally Antoine, but renamed at Pauline's command). Napoleon is divorcing his first wife, Josephine, and on the hunt for a new bride. He chooses a Hapsburg princess, Maria Lucia, seemingly against everyone's wishes. There were a lot of references to Marie Antoinette, the last Austrian queen of France (and Marie-Louise's great aunt). Pauline is completely against the whole marriage, to the point of practically terrorizing Marie-Louise, mostly because she wants to marry her brother. And Paul the chamberlain mostly sticks around because he's in love with Pauline. So, I don't know much about Napoleon, other than he kind of had a god complex and it's made me not want to read any books about him ever. I'm not sure how true to history this was, but I have at least been inspired to google Marie-Louise. It won't ever pass behond idle curiosity, probably, but at least I can say that I learned something. However, Pauline? Yeah, I'm hoping that part was fabricated. The first 75% of this book I loved. It flowed well, it worked well, I felt sympathy (yes, sympathy) for all of the characters. I liked how unique they were, how they developed, what they were up to. And then for some reason I felt like the last 25% was a completely different novel. It dragged and at times I felt like I was reading a textbook. I'm not sure why this is, since looking back on it, I don't feel like the writing style changed or anything like that... it just dragged a little. Too much dénouement, maybe? Marie-Louise was a great character, for the most part—towards the end she sort of devolved from a strong, interesting female lead to something of a bitch. And there is a big difference. Females always end up either being doormats or hateful, and I liked that initially she wasn't these things. I cheered when she stood up for herself, I winced when she was humiliated, I was happy when she was happy and sad when she was sad. I thought she was brave, and determined, and a true princess, etc etc. And then she kind of turned into a bitch. They were for justifiable reasons, but I felt let down—like she'd been in France for so long, so used to all of the ceremony and so forth, that when there was a crack about how her in-laws were all Bonapartes and basically full of themselves, she should look in the mirror or something. She basically turned into another Pauline! And Pauline? I loved her, and hated her. I loved to hate her. She was so unbelievably selfish the whole time! And completely ignorant of it! Even though she was kind of the villain she was one of the best characters. Her chamberlain, Paul, was probably the one I felt the sorriest for but that I cared about the least. I know that seems like a contradiction, but if I skimmed any part of this novel—I don't think I did—it would have been Paul's part. That being said, I think we got the truest view of the other characters from Paul's point of view, and out of everyone he was the least painful to read. The writing style wasn't bad. I haven't read anything by this author before, but I can say that generally speaking, it didn't read like every other historical fiction novel out there. After a while, they all start sounding the same—mostly because all the historical fiction I read tends to be about the Tudors, and this was completely out of left field for me. I enjoyed its uniqueness, and even though I found a few inconsistencies, if I hadn't been paying attention I probably would have never noticed. So overall, for historical fiction fans, I would recommend this book!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I quite enjoyed this historical fiction, provided by netgalley. I tend to be more of either a historical romance or a straight history reader, so this represented a bit of a change for me. What did I like about this one? - The writing style: first person all the way, but written from multiple characters' points of view. I really liked this. It could have been a bit confusing and a bit tedious but for the fact that the characters are very diverse and it really does give you the sense that you are i I quite enjoyed this historical fiction, provided by netgalley. I tend to be more of either a historical romance or a straight history reader, so this represented a bit of a change for me. What did I like about this one? - The writing style: first person all the way, but written from multiple characters' points of view. I really liked this. It could have been a bit confusing and a bit tedious but for the fact that the characters are very diverse and it really does give you the sense that you are in the room, experiencing history. It also meant that the story could easily fast forward and move quickly where necessary, without feeling that you are particularly missing anything. It also meant that the whole story was stronger, since we are not restricted only to the point of view of the main character, Empress Marie-Louise. - The characters: I mean really, the Bonapartes! What more do I need to say? This family of aggressive, competitive, selfish, arrogant and just plain unpleasant individuals are just fabulous for historical fiction. It's quite clear that at least one of them was pretty bonkers, even if we'll never know if it was a diagnosable illness (venereal or otherwise) or just a result of being treated like a god 24/7, and therefore having a completely distorted view of life. I could read biographies and fiction based on this family for ever. - The history: the author takes a few liberties with some of the history, but on the whole, I get the impression that this is based on the actual events, and that this is a point of pride for this author (yeah!). What did I not like quite as much? - For all the great diverse characters, and the wonderfully intriguing and unsettling setting, the characters felt rather one-dimensional. Paul came across as the most rounded - we just got to see and hear more of his inner thoughts and compare those to his actions. Pauline came across as hopelessly selfish, and I'm sure she was, but we needed to see more of the rest of her character to put it into perspective. Likewise, Marie-Louise came across as far too goody-goody. She had apparently lost her virginity before her marriage, and then promptly had two children living openly as the mistress of another man, whilst still married. Regardless of the fact that she had the misfortune to be married to Napoleon, I just cannot believe that she wouldn't have been severely shunned for what would have been outrageously scandalous behavior, and if she wasn't, I needed to see more evidence of that. I did enjoy this one, and the writing style made it fresh and kept it moving, but we needed to see more complexity in the characters so we could feel a bit more challenged that any of them deserved a spot of empathy. 3 stars. I liked it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    Maria-Lucia, Archduchess of Austria, is planning to marry the man she loves and to one day rule Austria as regent for her ailing brother. Unfortunately for her, she is instead shipped off to France to be rechristened 'Marie-Louise' and become Napoleon’s “second empress” (replacing his beloved but barren Josephine). Once there she must contend not only with Napoleon, who is unsurprisingly pretty horrible as a husband, but also his eccentric family…most notably his sister Pauline, who spends much Maria-Lucia, Archduchess of Austria, is planning to marry the man she loves and to one day rule Austria as regent for her ailing brother. Unfortunately for her, she is instead shipped off to France to be rechristened 'Marie-Louise' and become Napoleon’s “second empress” (replacing his beloved but barren Josephine). Once there she must contend not only with Napoleon, who is unsurprisingly pretty horrible as a husband, but also his eccentric family…most notably his sister Pauline, who spends much of the novel fantasizing about marrying her brother herself in order to co-rule Egypt as brother-sister Pharaohs. (Yes, really!) Despite her intense dislike of her new husband and her new in-laws, however, Marie-Louise must play the role of dutiful wife to perfection to appease Napoleon and protect her beloved Austria. I had really high hopes for this novel after Madame Tussaud, and I have to say that I didn’t find it to be quite as impressive as that book. Moran alternates between three narrators (Marie-Louise, Pauline, and Pauline’s steward) and the book is really too short to do that and fully develop all three of them—Pauline in particular seems cartoonishly over the top for most of the book rather than like a real woman with relatable flaws and desires. However, The Second Empress is a really engrossing read and it’s a lot of fun to root both for the extraordinarily capable Marie-Louise and against Napoleon and his loathsome sister. There were points where I questioned the historical accuracy of how various characters were being portrayed, but Moran has a great Author’s Note at the end that explains her choices. I also liked that Moran adds an extra layer to the story by including Pauline’s Mulatto steward, Paul Moreau, as one of the narrators. I never quite understood why he was so attached to Pauline, but I enjoyed the glimpses of his past in Haiti and valued his outsider’s perspective on events. Even though Madame Tussaud will remain my favorite of Moran’s books, The Second Empress definitely further cements her reputation as an author who dependably delivers well-researched and entertaining historical novels…can’t wait to see who she writes about next! (ARC provided by NetGalley)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Margo Tanenbaum

    I loved Moran's earlier novel about Madame Tussaud but found her new novel which takes place at the court of Napoleon less compelling. The novel takes place from 1809 to 1815, and alternates between three narrators, Maria Lucia, Princess of Austria, Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister, and Paul Moreau, a mulatto from Haiti who has come with Pauline Bonaparte to France as her chamberlain. Maria Lucia becomes a political pawn, much like her great aunt Marie Antoinette, when she is selected by Nap I loved Moran's earlier novel about Madame Tussaud but found her new novel which takes place at the court of Napoleon less compelling. The novel takes place from 1809 to 1815, and alternates between three narrators, Maria Lucia, Princess of Austria, Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister, and Paul Moreau, a mulatto from Haiti who has come with Pauline Bonaparte to France as her chamberlain. Maria Lucia becomes a political pawn, much like her great aunt Marie Antoinette, when she is selected by Napoleon as his second wife (his first wife, Josephine, was unable to provide him with an heir). Indeed her voyage to Paris to marry Napoleon is compared directly to Marie Antoinette's trip from Vienna, and there are many parallels including the French making both princesses leave behind their beloved dogs. While I felt Moran does a good job portraying the atmosphere of Napoleon's court, the use of multiple narrators made it difficult to become deeply engaged emotionally in any of their stories. I was disappointed not to get to know Marie Louise and her daily life better. While Pauline Bonaparte is undeniably fascinating, I expected to get to know more about Marie Louise given the title of the novel, but she is really just one thread of the story. The novel is about 350 pages long, which seems not long enough to do the subject justice. Nonetheless, Moran is a skilled writer and the book is worth reading if you'd like to learn more about Napoleon's court; it just didn't live up to my expectations.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Barb

    I read Michelle Moran's 'Madame Tussaud' when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it. She brought the period of the French Revolution to life in a realistic and believable way, I felt like I had been transported back in time. I expected to find a similarly engrossing story in 'The Second Empress'. While I did like this story, it was entertaining and easy to read, it doesn't have the same well-polished quality that 'Tussaud' has. The characters are not well developed and the period and the s I read Michelle Moran's 'Madame Tussaud' when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it. She brought the period of the French Revolution to life in a realistic and believable way, I felt like I had been transported back in time. I expected to find a similarly engrossing story in 'The Second Empress'. While I did like this story, it was entertaining and easy to read, it doesn't have the same well-polished quality that 'Tussaud' has. The characters are not well developed and the period and the setting seem as if they are in soft focus. I don't think much of anything from Morgan's story will stick in my memory. I did think Napoleon's relationship with Josephine after he divorced her was interesting and I would have liked to read more about them. I also liked the character Paul (Antoine) Moreau, Pauline Bonaparte’s chamberlain, but he was completely superfluous to this story. If you are looking for something that is a light and easy read this would fit the bill. If you are looking for something to take you back in time so you can peek into the lives of these historical figures I think you will be disappointed by this novel.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Having previously read and enjoyed Moran's novel Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution, I was looking forward to what I thought would be another enjoyable read. Nope. Unfortunately this novel was boring, and completely unmemorable. It never grabbed my attention, and the characters all felt like stereotyped cardboard-cutouts. I went in hoping to learn something about the Napoleonic era, but all I got was a psycho, controlling, short bloke with management issues and petty in-fighting amo Having previously read and enjoyed Moran's novel Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution, I was looking forward to what I thought would be another enjoyable read. Nope. Unfortunately this novel was boring, and completely unmemorable. It never grabbed my attention, and the characters all felt like stereotyped cardboard-cutouts. I went in hoping to learn something about the Napoleonic era, but all I got was a psycho, controlling, short bloke with management issues and petty in-fighting among his sisters (one of whom has incestuous tendencies towards her brother) and Marie-Louise - who was such a bland character in herself. Sadly, one of the only positive things that I have to say about this novel was that the large font meant that I managed to read it in less than a day. At least my pain was short lived.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book was published the day I left for Vienna so I downloaded it to my Kindle before I left. How appropriate to read this novel while I was in Austria as the main character, Marie-Louise, the second wife of Napoleon, was born and raised in Vienna as the eldest daughter of Emperor Franz I of Austria. While I was in Vienna, I visited Hofburg Palace and Schönbrunn Palace where Marie-Louise grew up. I also visited the Imperial Crypt where she was buried. I very much liked the structure of the pl This book was published the day I left for Vienna so I downloaded it to my Kindle before I left. How appropriate to read this novel while I was in Austria as the main character, Marie-Louise, the second wife of Napoleon, was born and raised in Vienna as the eldest daughter of Emperor Franz I of Austria. While I was in Vienna, I visited Hofburg Palace and Schönbrunn Palace where Marie-Louise grew up. I also visited the Imperial Crypt where she was buried. I very much liked the structure of the plot which dealt with the years Marie-Louise was married to Napoleon instead of a birth to death plot. I also appreciated the story being told from the point of view of three characters: Marie-Louise, Napoleon's sister Pauline, and Paul Moreau, a Haitian mulatto whom Pauline brought to France as her chamberlain.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    This was 3.5 stars. I will round up because I feel like I learned something. I don't know much about Napoleon and his rise and fall. Actually, I still don't after reading this, but I do feel I know more than before. This was an interesting read. I loved the research the author provided and the way it was personalized with private letters. After reading this, I think I'm going to have to throw some books about Napoleon on to my TBR pile. It surprises me though, that so many people lived in a perp This was 3.5 stars. I will round up because I feel like I learned something. I don't know much about Napoleon and his rise and fall. Actually, I still don't after reading this, but I do feel I know more than before. This was an interesting read. I loved the research the author provided and the way it was personalized with private letters. After reading this, I think I'm going to have to throw some books about Napoleon on to my TBR pile. It surprises me though, that so many people lived in a perpetual state of fear.

  29. 5 out of 5

    MaryannC. Book Freak

    I truly enjoyed this. There is something special in the way Michelle Moran writes, it's straight-forward, no complicated frou-frou words, but engrossing. Sometimes I get a little bored with the whole Napoleon/Josephine rehash. Dont get me wrong, I love reading the history about the era and a good Historical Fiction thrown in also makes it very interesting. But, for me this was pretty entertaining, I loved Marie-Louise's strength and character. I truly enjoyed this. There is something special in the way Michelle Moran writes, it's straight-forward, no complicated frou-frou words, but engrossing. Sometimes I get a little bored with the whole Napoleon/Josephine rehash. Dont get me wrong, I love reading the history about the era and a good Historical Fiction thrown in also makes it very interesting. But, for me this was pretty entertaining, I loved Marie-Louise's strength and character.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    4.5 stars, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I had been waiting for a book on Marie-Louise for ages, and I surely loved this. It might be a somewhat lighter, girlier read, but I learned a lot regardless! It has certainly whetted my appetite for the other books on the Bonapartes (what a family!) and the other books by Moran in my collection.

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