Michelle Moran explored the French Revolution years in her popular MadamTussaud. Her new novel, The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court revives the next chapter in French history. The story opens in the year 1809 and covers the latter part of Emperor Napoleon’s reign.
After conquering most of Europe, Napoleon is greatly fatigued but must set himself to the task producing the all-important heir. He divorces his beloved but barren Josephine. This turbulent story is told from the point of view of the three key women. Born of royal Austrian blood, Marie-Louise (Napoleon’s second wife) leaves her home to become the reluctant baby-maker. Hortense Beauharnais, stepdaughter from Napoleon’s first wife Josephine, is her sympathetic ally. Pauline, Napoleon’s promiscuous, narcissistic sister is vicious in her efforts to oust her brother’s new wife so that she can claim the crown for herself. A fourth voice is Pauline’s chamberlain and confidant, Paul Moreau.
The wealth of historical detail, drawn from the women’s notes and letters, creates a realistic portrait of the heady royal court gone berserk. Marie Louise is decidedly the most interesting character, but the shifting points of view interfere with any real character development. The book comes across as a series of vignettes. Michelle Moran’s signature is to immediately draw the reader in to her historical period. This book is no exception, but it lacked the immediacy and continuity of Madame Tussaud.
The unscrupulous actions of the court are aptly summed up in a quote from Bonaparte, “My family have done me far more harm than I have done them good.” Certainly your family would say the same about you, Napoleon.
I thank Crown Publishing for the advance review copy.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont.
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