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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The love lives of Napoleon's women
(3.5 stars)

Set in the final years of Napoleon's reign (1810-1815), this is a very female-centric, domestic novel which eschews politics for the love lives of Napoleon and his women.

Napoleon himself, now 40, divorces Josephine and takes the 19 year old Marie-Louise of Austria as his wife to provide him with a male heir. His sister, Pauline, who has...
Published on 9 July 2012 by Roman Clodia

versus
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More froth than history
I love the period of the French Revolution and Napoleon and expected this book to be really interesting. I enjoyed Madame Tussaud quite a lot and would have liked more of the same. Alas, Michelle Moran seems to be trying to morph into Philippa Gregory and consequently I didn't really get on with the book.

It really annoys me when facts and history are explained...
Published 20 months ago by Naomi


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More froth than history, 21 Nov 2012
By 
Naomi (Kent, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Second Empress (Paperback)
I love the period of the French Revolution and Napoleon and expected this book to be really interesting. I enjoyed Madame Tussaud quite a lot and would have liked more of the same. Alas, Michelle Moran seems to be trying to morph into Philippa Gregory and consequently I didn't really get on with the book.

It really annoys me when facts and history are explained by the characters to each other, such as when Metternich attempts to explain Napoleon's good points to Maria-Lucia. Emancipated the Jews? Tick. (Oh, she had a Jewish nanny so that's all right then, she clearly cares!), A visionary? Tick. (Even though Metternich is hardly known for sympathizing with the visionaries!!!) Code of Laws based on Justinian? Tick. Would there not have been a less clumsy way of getting the history in without having people explain it to each other? If you live through something, you understand it as it unfolds, you don't need another character handing out mini synopses left right and centre!!

Anyway, just my $2.

Apart from that, the book was ok, just a light read really with some BAD characters (Pauline), some NICE characters (Maria-Lucia, Adam and Paul) and some really colourless characters (Caroline, Pauline's lovers... yawn).

Next book, PLEASE don't try to be Philippa Gregory!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Go back to your history books, 1 July 2013
This review is from: The Second Empress (Paperback)
I actually like when authors 'make' stories out of historical events especially when such larger than life personalities are involved. But M.Moran has commited the cardinal sin of changing certain events to fit in her book making it a very silly read. This is made worse when you can read up on all her principal characters on Wiki ( not the best source I know but a beginning) and realise she has even got some dates wrong.It almost suggests she's too lazy to bother.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars HISTORY LITE, 6 Sep 2012
By 
Red Rock Bookworm (St. George Utah USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
National bestselling author Michelle Moran has once again created a vividly imagined novel. THE SECOND EMPRESS takes the reader back in time to Paris during the final six years in the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as he casts aside his ever devoted, loyal and barren wife Josephine to marry a young Austrian princess in the hope of siring a royal heir.

While not particularly kind in it's depiction of Napoleon the book does offer the author's premise of how this charismatic man who rose from virtual obscurity to power, transforming not only a monarchy but a nation and enacted the "Napoleonic Code" which forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion and specified that government jobs should go only to the most qualified could have veered so far off course by allowing his unquenchable thirst for power and immortality to override his reason.

Alluding to various letters and memoirs from that era as her resource materials Moran has culled scenes and incidents that portend to give the reader an insiders look at Napoleon's court. Some reviewer's have questioned the authenticity of these materials and the quality of the author's research but avid reader's of Historical Fiction are well aware that these novels are works of the author's imagination and are not to be given any credibility as actual history books or works of non-fiction. Think of this as an offering from Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm set in a specific time in history.

As with Moran's previous novels, THE SECOND EMPRESS is packed with intriguing characters caught in a perilous world of love, political intrigue, and power struggles. While the book is ostensibly about Marie-Louise Napoleon's second wife, it is Napoleon's sister Pauline with her jealousy, political ambitions and uncontrolled sexual appetites as well as her dedicated chamberlain Paul Moreau who emerge as the most interesting characters the in the book........ he is the cool, calm and collected voice of reason and she is the selfish, driven woman you love to hate. As for Marie-Louise she comes across as the dutiful and self-sacrificing daughter whose actions lend credence to that old movie quote (adjusted for gender) "a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do".

If you accept this book for the fiction it is, chances are you will find it most enjoyable. 3 1/2 stars
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The love lives of Napoleon's women, 9 July 2012
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Second Empress (Paperback)
(3.5 stars)

Set in the final years of Napoleon's reign (1810-1815), this is a very female-centric, domestic novel which eschews politics for the love lives of Napoleon and his women.

Napoleon himself, now 40, divorces Josephine and takes the 19 year old Marie-Louise of Austria as his wife to provide him with a male heir. His sister, Pauline, who has designs on both her brother and, more importantly, the imperial throne is less than pleased and plots her own power play.

This is a kind of history-lite novel which will probably please fans of Philippa Gregory. It's full of lush descriptions of dresses and jewels (e.g. when Marie-Louise is told she is to marry Napoleon, she's compensated by the fact that she'll have more furs and jewellery than any ruler in Europe), while big political events happen off-stage (`He lost the battle of Waterloo', he says. `Fifty thousand men dead. He will be banished to the island of Saint Helena to live out his days').

So this is light and easy reading with an uncomplicated portrait of Napoleon as a callous and cold ruler - it gives us a very girlie view of history and politics, and is undoubtedly flimsy and insubstantial but in an enjoyable way.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich in description and characterisations, 20 Aug 2012
This review is from: The Second Empress (Paperback)
One of the first reviews I posted on A Fantastical Librarian was for Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter, which I loved. I had planned to get all her other works, but you know how it goes; I have a wish list a mile long and only a limited budget to buy books. However, when I saw The Second Empress, which was about Napoleon's womenfolk, I was really excited and interested. I've always had an interest in Napoleon, both because of his influence on my country - Holland was occupied by the French from 1795 until 1813 - and because I visited The Dome des Invalides, where Napoleon is buried, when I was fourteen and I was fascinated, not just by the opulence of the place, but by the idea that one who had brought so much death and suffering to so many people still would have been revered enough to be honoured like that. I also saw the painting depicting Napoleon's crowning Josephine empress in the Louvre and was gripped by their story. So I was pretty familiar with their history; who I didn't know much about was Marie-Louise, Napoleon's second wife. And with The Second Empress Michelle Moran has definitely remedied this.

Moran tells her story through three separate viewpoints interspersed with letters between Napoleon and Josephine. The three viewpoints consist of Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's younger sister, her chamberlain, Paul Moreau, and Marie-Louise, the second empress herself. Through these we learn not just about Napoleon's almost magnetic charm on the populace and his truly awful temper, but also about his strategic genius and his ruthless ambition. We follow the Bonapartes from 1809, when Napoleon puts Josephine aside for her barrenness and marries Marie-Antoinette's great-niece Marie-Louise, until his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. They show us the cut-throat politics of the Napoleonic court and how the subtle, under-the-skin machinations of the women is just as deadly as Napoleon's more straightforward go-for-the-throat dealings.

The fact that Moran manages to make all three of our narrators sympathetic is really surprising, since Pauline was a rather disturbed individual, whose greatest ambition is to marry Napoleon in the tradition of the Pharaohs and rule the Empire by his side. Moran evokes pity rather than disgust for her, showing us that she's been broken by her family's past and her treatment after they fled Corsica. In addition, she is implied to be mentally impaired due to the effects of venereal disease and the medicines she takes for this. We see Pauline not just through her own eyes, but through those of the other two as well of course, but mostly through the loving eyes of Paul Moreau. Devoted to Pauline since her time on Haiti as the governor's wife, he gives a relative outsider's view of the events in the book, one who moves between the three spheres of influence of Napoleon, Pauline and Marie-Louise. I loved his development throughout the novel. He has to let go of so much to come back to who he wants to be and be able to return home.

If not for Marie-Louise, Paul would have been my favourite character in this book. I fell in love with Marie-Louise; Moran's portrayal of her as a strong-minded nineteen-year-old, who sacrifices her future to save her father's rein, as she thinks herself a dutiful daughter, and grows into a self-assured young woman, who manages to keep herself standing in the venal court of the Bonapartes was compelling. Her friendship with Hortense de Beauharnais, Josephine's daughter from her first marriage, was surprising, but touching. Marie-Louise's growth and her composure and quick thinking when Napoleon names her Regent when he goes to war, was amazing. Young as she was, she was a power to be reckoned with.

The one thing I would have liked to see addressed more is how Marie-Louise viewed Josephine. The latter must have been an intimidating figure for her, not just because Napoleon obviously still loved her even if he divorced, but also because she was well-loved by the French and Marie-Louise was seen as an Austrian interloper. For the great-niece of the last Austrian queen, who was beheaded by her subjects, this must have been at least a little frightening. The continuing love between Napoleon and Josephine is showcased in the book through the interspersion of several of their letters throughout the book. It shows the depth of their love and the very real passion between them, even after their divorce. For a young girl like Marie-Louise, this must have been hard, as it must have made her feel even more of an object--Pauline even refers to her as 'the womb'. However, beyond her initial trepidation at having Hortense as Mistress of the Robes, Marie-Louise doesn't really mention anything about it, which was a little puzzling.

Despite my wish for a deeper look at Marie-Louise's feelings about Josephine, The Second Empress was a riveting read, rich in descriptions of the gorgeous Parisian buildings and wonderful characterisations of not only its narrators, but of the secondary characters as well. It's once again convinced me that I need to catch up on this author's backlist as soon as I can. While the events the book follows a grand in scale, the book is an intimate narrative and lets the reader into the characters' minds and hearts and feel for them. If you're interested in the Napoleonic era and aren't as familiar with his court as with his military exploits, this is a good book to get you started. Michelle Moran has once again delivered a delightful novel and I can't wait to see whether her next book, which will be set in India, will be just as engaging as the works I've read so far.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another great book from moran, 31 July 2012
This review is from: The Second Empress (Paperback)
So far I have not read a Moran book that disappointed me, and I happy to say that one was just as good as the rest.

Through out the whole book there was this easy flow to it, I took it up and started reading and suddenly I found myself 1/3 through the book. So I did what any booklover would do, I finished it in one day. I really liked the flow, the book felt light by it.

The book itself spans over 6 years and has 3 POVS. Princess Marie-Louise who have to marry Napoleon. She is not happy but will do her duty. Then we have Napoleon's sister Pauline who is a piece of work, but still, she has issues too. And last Pauline's chamberlain Paul. They all give an insight and we get to see more than we would have since with just Marie-Louise around.

I like how Moran presents everyone, even with their faults she makes me see that there might be something behind all of it. Well except Napoleon, that guy was just crazy. But every man needs a vision.

The book felt different from the ones before, maybe because of the lightness, it was not that long either. She wove in the historical facts without making them heavy or making them too many.

Conclusion:
I could go on and on. In the end, all I want to say is that I really enjoyed reading this book and that I recommend it to all. It's the kind of historical fiction you just fall in love with.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 11 July 2014
This review is from: The Second Empress (Kindle Edition)
A Novel of Napoleon’s Court

This is the story of Austrian archduchess Marie Louise who at the age of nineteen married Napoleon Bonaparte and became his second wife and mother to the sole heir of the French Empire. At the time the French court was a wild place and this young, shy and politically inexperienced girl had to fill her predecessor shoes, Empress Joséphine (Napoleon`s first wife) and command a small army of servants and courtiers. This may be her story but the Emperor took a great chunk of this novel, it felt more like a character study about the illustrious figure`s carnal appetites and idiosyncrasies than anything else……

According to her notes, the author`s mentioned trying to be as close as possible to the historical record, especially where personalities were concerned and wanted to show her readers how powerful Napoleon really was and how everyone orbited around him, regardless if they were family or servants. This story is told from three points of views: Napoleon`s sister, the sex-crazed and Egypt obsess Pauline, Marie-Louise who loathed her husband and in love with and Austrian count and a young Haitian chamberlain Paul Moreau, whose love for Pauline was indisputable. The author has created quite a remarkable portrayal of characters and they truly shine in this novel.

This shrewd tale show Napoleon`s later life, personal exploits, his character traits. His marriage to Marie-Louise being a cold tactic of force against the Austrian nation and her acceptance was only in fear and loyalty to her country and through this union save her father`s throne. Ms. Moran punctuated the novel with letters between Napoleon and Josephine and historical titbits. The flow is smooth and keeps the steady pace throughout. Not different from any historical fiction we have an enhanced story that deviated from facts to make the experience more entertaining. Although nicely written this one is not my favourite in the author’s library.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 3 July 2014
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This review is from: The Second Empress (Paperback)
Good read
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1.0 out of 5 stars Best Suited for The Daily Mail, 19 Mar 2014
By 
This review is from: The Second Empress (Kindle Edition)
This review is from: The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court (Hardcover)

I enjoy historical fiction when it is well-written and, above all, well-researched. Because I am a historian with a specialty in the French Revolution and Napoleonic era, the kind that teaches college classes, and writes books and articles with lots of endnotes and bibliographies, reading historical fiction is a pleasure. However, I generally avoid books about the Revolution and Napoleon because I'm hypercritical and tend to throw them against the wall or in the garbage at the first sign of a factually challenged scene. So why did I read this one? I read it because the reviews were amazing, most of them, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The fuss, unfortunately, was about nothing at all. This book can be charitably described as the Daily Mail version of the brief life of an utterly forgettable Austrian teenager who married into a Corsican mafia clan, whose don was a misogynist with no manners and an ego the size of Mars, and whose female family members were casting extras from Jersey Shore or any other suitably trashy reality telly program.

If Moran had stated her objective in the beginning of this book, rather than in the completely misleading "Historical Note" at the end, I still might have saved my time and money. She states she is harsh in her treatment of Napoleon because "the evidence warrants it," and that "even the most outrageous aspects of this book were taken from primary sources." I do not believe Moran would recognize a real primary source if she met it in a well-lit room, and she certainly does not have the ability to discern which sources, primary or otherwise, are credible and which are not. She cites memoirs by Marie-Louise, who never wrote any herself, Hortense de Beauharnais, who never wrote anything herself, and Napoleon, who certainly never wrote his memoirs. She also mentions a Madame Durand, whose alleged memoirs were ghost-written after her death, and Count Montholon, who is known by credible historians of the period to be notoriously unreliable. Even so, there is enough material available for any author to use for a hatchet job on the Bonaparte clan--the British writer Corelli Barnett was a master at venom-filled diatribes against Napoleon and his family.

Moran also says we should read Flora Fraser's book about Pauline Bonaparte, but reviewers disagreed, many calling it the literary equivalent of gossip tabloids for undiscerning readers. At least her other two suggestions for additional reading are more palatable.

I don't mind the somewhat extreme bias Moran has shown in depicting Napoleon and his sisters Pauline and Caroline, but what I do mind in a book that purports to be a historical novel is an absolute plethora of factual inaccuracies, one right after the other. I mind because this sort of historical sloppiness gives the genre a bad name. I also mind when I read the gushing five-star reviews here and on other sites where readers applaud the "historical accuracy" and the fact that they are now so delighted to know all about Marie-Louise and Napoleon. I mind that these people have bought into misinformation and blatant inaccuracies as easily as some people buy into the recent negative campaign ads here in the US. Finally, I mind because I know the history better than Moran ever will, and felt at times as if I were reading something set in a parallel universe where facts didn't matter.

For example, the historical bloopers range from the fact Moran doesn't seem to know where Marie-Louise's son is now buried--he's in Les Invalides in Paris, not the crypts beneath Saint Stefan's in Vienna--to not understanding the distinction between the Hapsburgs and the Hapsburg-Lorraines to many other inaccuracies that cannot be explained away by fictional tweaking. One of the most risible aspects of this book is the alleged relationship between Marie-Louise and Neipperg. Moran would have us believe she and the count were lovers before she was told about her marriage to Napoleon. On the contrary, Marie-Louise never had a moment alone. She was guarded night and day by governesses and ladies-in-waiting; everything she read was heavily censored, and all her pets, including her dog, were female. Thus it is not realistic to suggest such a relationship, despite the fact it is blatantly false. Marie-Louise met Neipperg for the first time in Dresden in May 1812, and then not again until he came to Paris in late April 1814.

The other historical stretch is making Hortense de Beauharnais
Marie-Louise's Mistress of the Robes. In the first place, the Maison de l'Imperatrice included no such position, ever. In the second place, Hortense carried Marie-Louise's train in the religious ceremony in the Louvre, and left for Holland to join her husband shortly thereafter. Thus she was never around to have all those heart-warming conversations with Marie-Louise. The member of her household that Marie-Louise was closest to was the Duchesse de Montebello, with whom she corresponded regularly until the early 1820s. The other important person, Madame de Montesquiou, who was the head of the King of Rome's household and took personal care of the child, is never mentioned, but instead we get a mysterious Monsieur Laurent.

The book gains nothing from the odd convention of inserting two additional points of view. I can understand perhaps wanting to include Pauline, since for Moran she serves the purpose of representing the sexual extremes of the Bonaparte clan. I see no validity whatever for Pauline's chamberlain. As it is, we get almost nothing of value about Marie-Louise herself, little of significance about her feelings other than a superficial whitewashing, and nothing worthwhile about the world around her unless it somehow serves to validate Moran's view of the evil Bonapartes in general and Napoleon's crassness in particular. And where did 'Maria Lucia" come from? Marie-Louise was never called that when she lived in Vienna; she was known familiarly as Luisl or Lisl.

So go ahead and read this book. But don't say you weren't warned.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read!, 5 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Second Empress (Kindle Edition)
As always from Michelle, an excellent read - very difficult to put down. I would highly recommend it to all.
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