Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review: "The Second Empress" by Michelle Moran

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.

My Thoughts:  I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Michelle Moran did it again!  I really like her Egypt books and The Second Empress is just as good.  It was an incredibly well-written and very engaging story.  I loved that she picked a lesser known historical figure to showcase in this book.  Despite the fact that Marie-Louise was married to Napoleon, I know very little about her which made this book a great read.  I didn't even know that Marie-Louise was Marie Antoinette's niece which, considering some of their similarities, was pretty interesting.  I also liked that the reader to gets to watch the story unfold from the perspective of several different characters as well as through the letters between Napoleon and Josephine.

The characters were very well-developed in this book though some were a little strange.  Napoleon seemed like such an odd person and his sister, Pauline, was slightly crazy (okay, more than slightly).  There was definitely some creepy incestuous inuendos made about those two in this book which made them both seem a little crazier. Marie-Louise was a great character; she was tough, smart and kind.  She was perfectly capable of ruling France while Napoleon was off trying to take over the world.  I was very sympathetic to Marie-Louise's position, she was forced to marry someone who she didn't even like and who had dishonored her family, but I really felt bad for Paul, Pauline's servant.  Paul was not your average servant, he was educated and was pretty close to both Napoleon and his sister.  He loved Pauline despite the fact that she was not right in the head and he truly believed that he could go back to Haiti and make a difference there.  Throughout the book all he wants is to go back and help rebuild his country.  It made him a very admirable character.

The story follows Marie-Louise from the beginning of her marriage to Napoleon to the end and showed the reader the world of Napoleon's France.  I haven't seen many works of historical fiction set during this time so I loved the uniqueness of it.  Whether you are a fan of Michelle Moran or just historical fiction in general, I highly recommend this book.  4 stars. 


  1. I have not read a lot about Napoleon and would like to know more about him and I enjoy Michelle Moran's books so I am definitely going to have to read this one. Thanks for the great review!

  2. I've been wanting to read this, and really all of Michelle Moran's books. I've heard such great things about her, but I still haven't read anything by her.

    1. I highly recommend her Egypt books! (All of her books are good but those are my favorite.)


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