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The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

The Second Empress is the story of Napoleon’s second wife,

The Second Empress is the story of Napoleon’s second wife, Maria Lucia, the daughter of the Emperor of Austria. Napoleon sets aside his first wife, Josephine, due to the fact that she was unable to bear children for him and probably another contributing factor cou...
The Second Empress is the story of Napoleon’s second wife, Maria Lucia, the daughter of the Emperor of Austria. Napoleon sets aside his first wife, Josephine, due to the fact that she was unable to bear children for him and probably another contributing factor could well have been her numerous rumored affairs. If it is one thing most people know about Napoleon is he doesn’t liked to be made a fool of. Moran portrayed Napoleon just how history portrays him, egotistical.

Maria (later renamed Marie Louise) has no choice but to obey the summons by Napoleon, even though her heart belongs to Count Adam Neipperg. I found that Marie was a very determined woman. She knew exactly how to appease the volatile Napoleon without facing her great-aunt Marie Antoinette’s fate. Moran did a wonderful job staying true to how history recounts Marie Louise’s life. She appeared meek, but she was a very clever woman and knew her duty. After bearing the heir for Napoleon, she cements her position. There was never any love between the two, mainly because they each loved another. Napoleon, even after casting Josephine aside, remains devoted to her as the letters between them that Moran incorporates into the story proves and of course Marie loves Adam.

The Second Empress is also told from the POV of Pauline, Princess of Borghese and Napoleon’s conceited sister. There were many speculations about Pauline and Napoleon’s relationship. Pauline thought very highly of herself and thought that she and Napoleon should rule together as the Egyptian royal families did. After her brother got rid of his first wife she really thought that he would ask her to marry him and rule with him. When it became known that he was going to wed in Austrian princess, Pauline is livid. This begins the downward spiral of Pauline, whether it is because of her illness (from her many liaisons with men) or her jealously or a combination of both. Not the most likable character but then she wasn’t the nicest person so job well done on . Moran’s part.

The third narrator is Paul Moreau, Pauline’s half-Haitian chamberlain. He provides a unique perspective into the lives of Pauline, Napoleon and Marie. His voice provides the reader with more information that otherwise would not be achieved with only using characters on the inside of the royal family. Paul and Pauline’s relationship is strictly friendship and towards the end you see the strain Pauline’s vanity puts on this friendship.

Moran’s novels are always rich in detail and her characters are historically quite accurate. I loved that she focused on Napoleon’s personal life and how his military strategies actually tear it apart. There were times that I didn’t care for the short choppiness of the chapters towards the end that made the story feel rushed, but all in all this was an enjoyable read.

(e-ARC was received from publisher in exchange for an honest review)

posted by kopsahl on August 14, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

6 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

I am surprised by the number of reviewers on other sites who cla

I am surprised by the number of reviewers on other sites who claim this
book is "historically accurate" and thus informative. I'm
equally surprised about the dearth of comments concerning the author's
"sources," most of which have been discredited o...
I am surprised by the number of reviewers on other sites who claim this
book is "historically accurate" and thus informative. I'm
equally surprised about the dearth of comments concerning the author's
"sources," most of which have been discredited over the
decades by legitimate scholars of the period. This book is not
historical fiction because it is replete with blatant factual errors and
substitutes a tabloid-like fascination with sexual escapades for any
attempt at real characterization. For example, Marie-Louise,
erroneously referred to as Maria Lucia, is alleged to have begun an
affair with Count Neipperg before she was betrothed to Napoleon. Anyone
with the slightest familiarity with the Hapsburg court, or anyone who
had even bothered to consult Wikipedia on the subject, would know that
Marie-Louise was guarded day and night by governesses, ladies in
waiting, and her own family, her books were rigorously censored, and her
pets were all female. For her to have an affair under these
circumstances is ludicrous. While it is entirely possible to demonize
Napoleon, and many authors past and present have done so, why is it
necessary? What does it add to the story? What does painting Pauline
Bonaparte as a scandalous, possibly incestuous, woman do to enrich what
should be, after all, Marie-Louise's story? What does the viewpoint
of a mulatre servant add to the mix? The major problem is the author's
obvious inexperience and equally obvious inability to recognize source
material. She cites alleged "memoirs" in her "Historical
Note" at the end of the book by individuals, to include
Marie-Louise, Hortense de Beauharnais, and even Napoleon, who never ever
wrote any memoirs. Apparently Moran could not distinguish between
memoirs written about an individual but by another person from those
written by the person him or herself. She is also unaware that some
sources that she claims are primary are not primary because they were
written much later. The historical inaccuracies are legion, from the
Neipperg issue to the presence of Hortense as an alleged Mistress of the
Robes to Marie-Louise to the burial place of Marie-Louise's son. The
blatant misinterpretations of basic historical events range from the
reasons for Marie-Louise's marriage to Napoleon through then number of
Frenchmen killed during the Revolution to the number of soldiers killed
during the Russian Campaign--or the reasons for their deaths--to the
events surrounding Napoleon's abdication. I understand the need to
modify history a little, here and there, to invent conversations, for
instance, or add a few minor characters, when one writes historical
fiction. But to write about such well-known individuals as these, about
whom so much has already been written, and then commit so many
historical faux pas is beyond the pale, I think. It certainly does a
disservice to readers who think they've just enjoyed an historically
accurate portrait of Marie-Louise, Napoleon, or anyone else in this
book. If you want to know about Napoleon's second wife, read another
book, or wait for someone with a scintilla of historical competence to
write one. Moran's book is nothing more than historical fantasy, and
not a good one at that. Save your money and your time.

posted by MaggieC65 on August 19, 2012

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  • Posted August 14, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The Second Empress is the story of Napoleon’s second wife,

    The Second Empress is the story of Napoleon’s second wife, Maria Lucia, the daughter of the Emperor of Austria. Napoleon sets aside his first wife, Josephine, due to the fact that she was unable to bear children for him and probably another contributing factor could well have been her numerous rumored affairs. If it is one thing most people know about Napoleon is he doesn’t liked to be made a fool of. Moran portrayed Napoleon just how history portrays him, egotistical.

    Maria (later renamed Marie Louise) has no choice but to obey the summons by Napoleon, even though her heart belongs to Count Adam Neipperg. I found that Marie was a very determined woman. She knew exactly how to appease the volatile Napoleon without facing her great-aunt Marie Antoinette’s fate. Moran did a wonderful job staying true to how history recounts Marie Louise’s life. She appeared meek, but she was a very clever woman and knew her duty. After bearing the heir for Napoleon, she cements her position. There was never any love between the two, mainly because they each loved another. Napoleon, even after casting Josephine aside, remains devoted to her as the letters between them that Moran incorporates into the story proves and of course Marie loves Adam.

    The Second Empress is also told from the POV of Pauline, Princess of Borghese and Napoleon’s conceited sister. There were many speculations about Pauline and Napoleon’s relationship. Pauline thought very highly of herself and thought that she and Napoleon should rule together as the Egyptian royal families did. After her brother got rid of his first wife she really thought that he would ask her to marry him and rule with him. When it became known that he was going to wed in Austrian princess, Pauline is livid. This begins the downward spiral of Pauline, whether it is because of her illness (from her many liaisons with men) or her jealously or a combination of both. Not the most likable character but then she wasn’t the nicest person so job well done on . Moran’s part.

    The third narrator is Paul Moreau, Pauline’s half-Haitian chamberlain. He provides a unique perspective into the lives of Pauline, Napoleon and Marie. His voice provides the reader with more information that otherwise would not be achieved with only using characters on the inside of the royal family. Paul and Pauline’s relationship is strictly friendship and towards the end you see the strain Pauline’s vanity puts on this friendship.

    Moran’s novels are always rich in detail and her characters are historically quite accurate. I loved that she focused on Napoleon’s personal life and how his military strategies actually tear it apart. There were times that I didn’t care for the short choppiness of the chapters towards the end that made the story feel rushed, but all in all this was an enjoyable read.

    (e-ARC was received from publisher in exchange for an honest review)

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 31, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I confess, I don't recall a lot about Napoleon besides what I wa

    I confess, I don't recall a lot about Napoleon besides what I was taught in history. And lets face it, I don't think the history books are very nice to him. I'm not saying he was a great man, because I'm sure the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I wanted to read this to gain a little insight on the man, and well because I love Michelle Moran.

    I enjoyed Marie-Louise and the voice she gave this book. I admire those women from this time period who know their duty (even if I disagree with it) and do it with very little complaint. She marries Napoleon to save her father's kingdom. She's heard all the stories, and I think it helps her to better prepare for the type of man Napoleon might be. He wants heirs and loyalty and nothing more. She holds on to hope that maybe one day she can return to her kingdom and marry the man she truly loves. I admired her for that hope and for being the loving wife. I'm sure that Napoleon was a hard man to please.

    I had a hard time liking Pauline. But, I think she's suppose to be that way. She comes across as arrogant and selfish. She expects those around her to bow to her every whim. I'm glad we don't much visual when it comes to her sexual life, but wow. I wonder how much of that was true. Her relationship with her brother was a little odd, and I'm curious if they really had an incestuous relationship. I don't think the normal family bonds existed for them. She was as drunk on Napoleon's power and he was. I did find her relationship with her servant Paul to be interesting. I think it was the closest thing to normalcy and she didn't know how to handle it.

    I enjoyed both women's insight on Napoleon himself. He doesn't come across as quite so harsh in this book. From the author's note, it seems like she toned down how he treated women. I'm beginning to think I'll like him about as much as I do Henry VIII. I do have to admit that both men had a powerful effect on their respective counties.

    I enjoyed this novel and Michelle Moran has proves once again why she is on my must read list. I'll be eagerly awaiting her next novel. I'm wondering if it will be about Queen Victoria...one of my favorite British Monarch's!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2012

    good!

    Just enough history with a fantastic story line. Would recommend to anyone,

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 19, 2012

    Worth Reading at Least Once

    That Bonaparte family was bonkers. It really makes you reevaluate your opinion on the kind of man Napoleon was. My favorite part of the book is reading Moran's historical notes at the end. I like how she fesses up to the things she changed or added in to make the story flow.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    An overlooked figure in history

    Enjoyable book and an easy read. Characters are believable and there is plenty of actual history here to keep the read interesting. I am grateful someone finally wrote Napoleon's story, especially of his later years when his megalomania was totally out of control, from the viewpoint of "The Second Empress."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2014

    Enjoyable!

    Fitst book of Michelle Moran I have read. It is historical fiction, and so the author has taken liberties with her story, but thats why its fiction. I purchased this book around 5pm: finished it about 1am that night. The story was so vivid, I couldn't put it down! I wish it would have been a trilogy.

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  • Posted August 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Enjoyable

    Napoleon Bonaparte gained fame for rising from the dregs of poverty to conquer most of Europe in the late 18th to early 19th century. To do so, in addition to fighting many successful campaigns, he married family members to prominent members of his family to European nobility. Napoleon loved and married Josephine, but after several years of not being able to have children with her, he dissolves his marriage to her, allowing her to keep the title of Empress. This made him free to marry Marie-Louise of Austria. This novel focuses on this second marriage and the final days of his empires as his power diminishes and he loses his grip on the empire he controlled. The novel is written in the points of view of Marie-Louise, Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, and Paul - Pauline's Haitian servant.

    At the heart of the story is the animosity between Marie-Louise and her husband's sister, Pauline, adding interest and conflict. Paul is a charismatic character who loves and is loyal to his mistress. Throughout, he provides readers with a "sensible" view as the conflicts abounds. To write a novel in this era is a definite challenge. There are numerous characters, political machinations, and nobles from various countries. After having read the novel about Pauline's life by her descendent, Prince Lorenzo Borghese, I'm not certain Pauline was depicted accurately in Michelle Moran's novel. I didn't find it believable that she would desire to marry her own brother, Napoleon, in order to rule the world. There are a few other small details of historical inaccuracy those familiar with the era may identify. However, this is historical fiction and for those more interested in reading a good story rather dwelling in historical fact, the book is an entertaining and compelling read. Michelle Moran's interpretation of the characters provides a different slant and the conflicts between them makes for an interesting read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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