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on 11 July 2014
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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on 4 March 2015
"I am comforting myself with the idea that you do sometimes think about me, but perhaps I ought rather to want you to forget me, because then you would have nothing to worry about, whereas I, weighed down with care, and loving you more devotedly than ever, am spending whole days in despair because I can't see you". Historical Marie Louise wrote this words to Napoleon on a letter dated June 1814. She was already in Vienna and her correspondence being read by Metternich's police. He was exiled in Elba, totally powerless. What you will read on Moran's book however, is totally different from what History and documents have recorded about their relationship (or anything related to Napoleon's or the Austrian courts at the time, barely recognizable) between 1810 and 1814.

Despite her claims of being accurate and close to historical facts, the truth is what Michelle Moran has written here is not "historical" at all, but rather an "imaginative" narrative à la Philippa Gregory. Leaving aside the fact that Marie-Louise was Napoleon's second wife and the mother of his only legitimate child, the rest is made up and when "historical" letters appear are either edited or useless. Napoleon's letters to Marie Louise, and hers to him, would have been welcome. The ones from Napoleon to Josephine have nothing to do with the book's plot. As for the structure, I was not that happy with the changing points of view. In a short book like this, it gives an impression of superficiality since we never get to know any of the three narrators and it makes the title somewhat misleading.

All this is such a pity since novels focusing on her are so rare and this was such a good idea at the beginning! A more balanced and interesting view of the characters would have made it a better book. Unfortunately the author went by the easy way of telling a angels vs. devils story. As Hortense wrote in her Memoirs (published in 1927 by Jean Hanoteau) "No Court has been so purer in its behaviour than Napoleon's, and, however, no one has been so calumniated". We can believe her (or whoever wrote them) or not, the case is a more balanced view would have been welcomed... and more interesting. The book had potential, but unfortunately the opportunity of having a good fictional portrait of Marie Louise was wasted.
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on 21 November 2012
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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on 1 July 2013
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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on 24 August 2012
The Second Empress by Michelle Moran is the story of Napoleon the courtier rather than Napoleon the General and statesman. The book covers the period of his second marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria until his downfall after Waterloo. There are three narrators - the homesick Austrian princess Marie-Louise, the Emperor's ghastly, nymphomaniac sister Pauline, and her mulatto Haitian servant and former slave, Paul. We see Napoleon through their eyes in all his womanising charm, brilliance, arrogance and conceit.

The title is my main criticism of this otherwise fine book. The eponymous Marie-Louise is only one of several main characters. I also felt the author made too much use of chapter heading quotes and letters within the text as these slow down the narrative drive.

Overall, though, the book is well-written, easy to read, and the characters finely drawn - the reader roots for the downtrodden Marie and loathes Pauline. Moran has thoroughly researched her story, as is evidenced by her extensive author's notes. Napoleon's and Pauline's incestuous affair is apparently factual.
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on 20 August 2012
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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on 31 July 2012
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.

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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on 10 December 2013
i'm fascinated with history and having never learnt much about napoleon I had to buy it! in an instance you really hate this guy and feel for the woman who is being forced to marry him! The chapters are set around three points of view. The wife of the man himself, Marie-Louise, the sister of napoleon Pauline and the slave of Pauline, Paul. It doesn't take long to figure out who you feel sorry for and throughout the book you start to hope for the characters that suffer. with love letters, war and lovers in another country, it is a good read and my hopes for my favorite characters were good!
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(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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on 21 December 2013
I bought this book on a whim not really knowing what to expect. I was surprised to find myself anxious to get back to the book and difficult to put it down.. For me symptomatic of a really good read. Great historical detail and characters you had always heard about but didn't have much knowledge of their. actual lives.
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