Publication Date: 14th August 2012
Book Source: Crown Publishing & NetGalley
Synopsis: It is 1809, and while the French Revolution is over, the bloodshed in Paris continues under the reign of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Although he has conquered much of Europe and is considered one of the most formidable generals in the world, Napoleon still lacks one important thing -- an heir. Convinced that his faithful wife Joséphine will never produce one, he divorces her and begins the search for a new bride. His choice lands on the unwilling Austrian princess, Marie-Louise, whose great-aunt, Marie Antoinette, suffered a terrible fate at the hands of the French. But once Napoleon makes his intentions known, not even Marie Louise's father can save her from what is certain to be an unhappy marriage.
After Marie-Louise arrives in France, she is treated to a spectacle beyond anything she could have ever imagined in Austria. From lavish parties that would have made Marie Antoinette blush with shame, to temper tantrums thrown by the emperor's spoiled siblings, the French court is wild, juvenile, and extravagant. The worst offender of them all, however, is Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's promiscuous sister who is doing everything she can to encourage Napoleon to divorce his new wife. Her dream is to take the imperial crown for herself--just as the Egyptians did--by marrying her own brother. When Marie-Louise uncovers the relationship that exists between her husband and his sister, she is horrified. Surrounded by duplicitous courtiers and untrustworthy family members, the new empress finds two unlikely allies at court: Hortense, the beautiful daughter of Joséphine, and Paul, the insightful mulatto servant Pauline took away with her after visiting the island of Haiti.
Based entirely on primary resources, The Second Empress re-creates Napoleon Bonaparte's wildly promiscuous court--and the women who tried to control it.
Swept away; Michelle Moran's writing never fails to captivate me and The Second Empress is no exception. This fascinating novel spans the last 6 years of Napoleon's reign, beginning with his divorce from Josephine & subsequent marriage to Austrian princess Marie-Louise.
Told from the alternating and diverse viewpoints of Marie-Louise, Napoleon's sister Pauline, and Paul, Pauline's chamberlain, I enjoyed seeing Napoleon and his court through their eyes. The quotes from letters and 19th century memoirs throughout the novel and the authentic letters between Napoleon and Josephine give the reader insight into a not so public side of Napoleon.
I needed little reminder of what an egotistical despot Napoleon was but the megalomania/sociopath gene must have run in the Bonaparte family as Napoleon's sister Pauline was a piece of work. Bizarre, freaky even but she sure made for interesting reading. I knew next to nothing about Napoleon's second wife but quickly learned there was more to Marie-Louise than these 'complimentary' words from Napoleon show.
"This is the marriage I was destined to have. A Hapsburg princess as fertile as a sow."
Michelle Moran conveys a true sense of time and place in The Second Empress, what a compelling way to receive a history lesson ... love it!! My only complaint, the last third of the book felt a little rushed, I could have easily devoured another hundred pages. While there's plenty of juicy historical detail, it's not too weighty, making this a fast, thoroughly entertaining read that I really didn't want to put down.
Where's Michelle Moran taking us next? I can't wait!
Check out Michelle Moran's awesome website and blog.