The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court

by Michelle Moran


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The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court by Michelle Moran

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte will stop at nothing to marry the Hapsburg princess he hopes will bear him a royal heir, in this compelling novel from bestselling author Michelle Moran.
After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon’s power is absolute. When eighteen year old Marie-Louise is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon or refuse and plunge her country into war. To save her father's throne, Mary-Louise is determined to be a good wife. But at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her new husband’s affection, including Napoleon’s sister Pauline, who is fiercely jealous, utterly uncontrollable, and the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. When war once again sweeps the Continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise’s family, the second empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history—and change the course of her life. 

The Second Empress will transport you back to Napoleon's empire where royals and servants alike live at the whim of one man, and two women vie to change their destinies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307953049
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 05/21/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 191,703
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

MICHELLE MORAN’s experiences at archaeological sites around the world motivated her to write historical fiction and continue to provide inspiration for her novels. She is nationally bestselling author of Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, Cleopatra's Daughter, and Madame Tussaud. Visit her online at

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Maria Lucia, Archduchess of Austria

Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna

November 1809

I study Maria Ludovika's face in the fresh light of our studio, trying to determine whether I should paint her with or without the golden diadem in her hair. A few steps away, almost close enough to touch, she is holding up a paintbrush and studying me. The courtiers in my father's palace call us the Two Marias, since we share nearly everything together: our shoes, our hobbies, even our names. We are second cousins, but whereas I am tall and buxom, with pale gold hair and wide hips, Maria Ludovika is small and thin. Her dark hair falls in waves around her shoulders, and she has not inherited the Hapsburg lip as I have--full and slightly protruding. Anyone looking at the two of us would think that I am older, because of my significant height. But I am eighteen to her twenty-two, and while she is the empress of Austria now, I am simply an archduchess.

When she came from Italy, I imagined it would be strange to have a stepmother only four years older than me. She is my father's third wife, my mother having died two years ago. But since her arrival in Vienna we have been like sisters, laughing over foolish palace intrigue, arranging trips to the Christmas markets in the city, and painting portraits in our cozy artist's workshop overlooking the winter gardens of Schonbrunn Palace. I have never had another woman my age for entertainment, since I am the eldest. My sixteen-year-old brother, Ferdinand, is the closest in age to me, but he was born dull-witted, as was my little sister, Maria-Carolina. So even as a child, I was lonely.

"Shall I put Sigi in your picture?" Maria asks, looking down at the small spaniel sleeping at my feet.

"I don't know," I say. "What do you think, Sigi? Would you like to sit for a portrait?"

My little Schnuckelputzi opens his eyes and barks.

"He knows you're talking about him!" Maria laughs.

"Of course he does." I put down my paintbrush to pick up Sigi, cradling him in my lap. "There's not a dog in Vienna that's smarter than him. Isn't that right?" Sigi buries his head under my arm. In all of Austria, I have never seen another dog with ears covered in such long, fringed hair. He was a gift to me from Maria when she first arrived at Schonbrunn, and now he goes wherever I do.

"If you make him sit still, I'll paint him on your lap."

"Sigi, behave yourself," I say sternly. He rests his chin on his front paws and looks up at me.

"Exactly." Maria dips her brush into the black oil, but before she can apply the paint to the canvas, he has already moved. "Oh, Sigi." She sighs. "What's the matter with you?"

"He's nervous," I say. "He's been like this since the emperor came," I whisper.

"I'm not surprised. Even the animals despise that man." She means Napoleon, who came to us last month with the humiliating Treaty of Schonbrunn, determined that my father, the Emperor Francis I, should sign it. Our English allies were bitterly against my father's surrender. But in his war against Napoleon, three million lives had already been lost.

The terms of Napoleon's treaty were harsh, demanding that we cede our cities of Salzburg to Bavaria, Galicia to the Poles, East Galicia to Russia, and much of Croatia to France. So four hundred thousand citizens who speak only German, eat only German food, and know only German customs woke up to find themselves belonging to four different nations. Yet the rest of the kingdom remained intact, and for this, my father owes Prince Metternich. They say there has never been another diplomat like him in the world. That if not for Metternich, the great Hapsburg-Lorraine empire would have been reduced to nothing.

When the treaty was signed, I heard courtiers whisper, "Better to be a beggar in the streets than a coward." They believed my father had sold the Adriatic coast for the price of his crown. But they were not the ones with sons or husbands in the army. They did not have to receive--week after week, month after month--the terrible lists of the dead. I did. I was there, in my father's Council Chamber, as one day I will be regent when Ferdinand takes the throne. I know the price Napoleon exacted on Austria. But the courtiers seem to have forgotten what the French are capable of. How only sixteen years ago they beheaded my great-aunt, Queen Marie-Antoinette.

There are few people who understand the true cost of this treaty to my father, but Maria is one of them. She was still a child in Italy when Napoleon's army appeared thirteen years ago. The soldiers swept through the streets taking whatever they pleased: carriages, villas, valuable china, women. Her father, who was the governor of the Duchy of Milan, gathered her family together, and they escaped with only the clothes on their backs. When they arrived in Austria, he was made the Duke of Breisgau. But Maria has never forgotten the loss of Milan, her childhood home, and it was with great unhappiness that she watched her husband sign the Treaty of Schonbrunn, surrendering to her family's most bitter enemy for a second time.

"And do you remember how small he was?" Maria asks, and I know she is about to continue with a familiar tirade.

"I only saw him from a distance," I remind her. I refused to enter the Council Chamber when my father was forced to sign away parts of his empire.

"Like a little gnome. Prince Metternich says that in France his enemies call him the King of Diamonds, a squat little emperor wrapped in red velvet and fur. Who is he?" she demands, and her voice is rising. "Where does he come from? And to think we had to bow to that man! A Corsican. Do you know what they do in Corsica?" She doesn't wait for me to answer. "They send their daughters to brothels to earn extra money. Even the nobles!"

I don't know if this is true, but Maria believes it.

"Just look at his sister Pauline." She leans forward, and our painting is forgotten. "What sort of woman poses nude for a sculptor? Nude!" It was a scandal all across Europe, that the emperor of France could control an army of three hundred thousand men but not his own family. First Jerome Bonaparte married without Napoleon's approval and fled to America to escape his brother's wrath. Then Lucien Bonaparte took a wife without his brother's consent. Now Pauline has left her second husband in Turin to pursue the life of an unmarried woman in Paris.

They are not a family fit for any throne. I think of my father's continuous sacrifices to be a Hapsburg king his people can respect: the nights he has stayed up balancing accounts, the mistresses he has refused in order to be a moral husband, and his vigilant oversight of the nation's treasury. It is not exciting work, and it is hardly glamorous. But a people are a reflection of their monarch, and we must provide a good example for them. My siblings and I have all been taught to keep records, so that we know exactly how much was spent keeping us in silk slippers and warm cloaks. For the month of November, I cost my father nearly twice as much as Maria-Carolina. Next month I will be more careful. "A king who rules without watching his treasury is a king who will soon be without a crown," my father says.

And it doesn't help that the Treaty of Schonbrunn has bankrupted our empire, forcing my father to make reparation payments to Napoleon of more than fifty million francs. Napoleon had wanted a hundred million, but no kingdom in the world can afford such a sum. So he settled for half, and my father has had to abandon silver coin and begin printing our money on paper. If there are hungry women and children in the streets, it is because of this treaty. It is because Napoleon could not be satisfied with Croatia, or Salzburg, or even Tyrol. He wanted the world to know that the Hapsburgs had been defeated, and now the German people must suffer for daring to believe they could stop him from consuming all of Europe. And even Europe was not enough.

Eleven years ago Napoleon marched an army of nearly forty thousand soldiers into Egypt. We were told he wanted to take control of the Indian Empire from the British. But the truth was something different. Prince Metternich lived in Paris as Napoleon's ambassador for more than three years, and he has told my father that the French emperor went to Egypt for one reason--glory--and that nothing is more important to him. He wanted to rule the land once conquered by Alexander the Great. He wished to hear his name echoing around the world.

To rise so high, so fast, you would think that God Himself was on his side, pushing him to even further greatness. But how can that be when his actions have deprived our people of food? When his treaty has impoverished the most benevolent empire in Europe? The Hapsburg-Lorraines have ruled for almost eight hundred years. Who is this man who thinks he can conquer the world before he's even forty?

I am about to reprimand Sigi for not staying still when a sharp knock on the door sends him jumping from my lap. I frown at Maria, since no one disturbs us in our artist's retreat.

"Come in," she calls.

Sigi growls at the door, but it is my father and Prince Metternich who enter, and immediately we rise. They are two of the most handsome men at court, with thick golden hair and slender waists. Even at forty-one and thirty-six, they are the picture of vitality, and both have the famous Hapsburg skin that made Marie-Antoinette so admired.

"The Two Marias," my father says in greeting, and although we are standing, he waves this action away. "Keep painting," he tells us. "That's why we've come."

"For a painting?" I ask.

"Your most unattractive portraits."

I am about to laugh, but there is no humor in his face.

Prince Metternich explains. "Napoleon has requested paintings from every noble house in Europe. He is particularly interested in Europe's unmarried princesses."

"But he's already married!" Maria exclaims.

"There is talk of a divorce," my father says quietly.

Maria and I exchange looks.

"It will likely come to nothing," Metternich says smoothly, "but he has made the request, and we cannot deny it." As usual, Metternich's voice is calm. If Napoleon had asked for nude statues of us, he would have passed this along in the same even tone.

"You are to choose your least attractive portrait," my father says.

My hands are shaking. "But I thought he loved Josephine," I protest. After all, he forgave her even after all of Europe came to know of the affairs she conducted while he was in Egypt.

"Certainly he loves her," Metternich replies. "But the emperor needs an heir."

"And he has gotten a child on his mistress," my father says contemptuously, "proving he's not infertile."

"Do the scandals never end with this family?" Maria stands. "We shall send him the very first portraits we made of one another. Then he will never look to Austria for a bride." I follow her across the room to the wall where all our efforts at portraiture have been framed. "That one." Maria points. Aside from my blond hair and blue eyes, I am unrecognizable.

Prince Metternich clears his throat. "Mockery may be inadvisable," he says.

"This is no mockery!" my father shouts. "Does he think he can do away with his wife as easily as he did away with Egypt's mamelukes? The pope will not have it. Europe will never consider another wife of his legitimate!"

"Then he might choose to proceed without the pope," Metternich replies.

The three of us stare at him.

"He is a bold man, Your Majesty. Nothing can be discounted. I would consider sending that one," Metternich suggests, indicating a large, oval painting from three months ago. It is the best likeness of me: my wide-set eyes are a vivid blue, and in life they are probably my best feature. But it also captures my too-strong jaw, the length of my nose, and my Hapsburg lip.

"No," my father rules. "It is too pretty."

Metternich looks from the painting to me, and I flush. "He will want a good likeness" is all he says.

"And how should he know?" Maria demands. "He has never laid eyes on her!"

"Your Majesties, this is a man who may choose to visit Vienna tomorrow, or next week, or even next month. What will he think if he sees the archduchess and realizes that you have made a fool of him? Please, give him something that will not make him suspicious."

"Send whichever one you want," my father says. "Just do it quickly, so we may stop talking about this man."

Metternich bows. "There is still the matter of your wife, Your Majesty. He also wishes to see every member of the royal family. Is there a painting you prefer--"

"Yes. Whichever's cheapest. And do not send him anything in a gilded frame." My father pauses at the door, then looks around. "That one," he says, pointing to the unfinished canvas on my easel. I have already painted Maria's black eyes, her small, pretty lips, and the abundant curls that hang in dark clusters on either side of her head. Although her dress remains to be done, there is no one who will look at this without thinking that my father has chosen well.

"When will you be finished?" Prince Metternich asks.

I feel the heat creep back into my cheeks. "Another five days. Perhaps a week."

He crosses his arms over his chest, scrutinizing the painting. Then he looks up at me. "You have talent."

His sudden interest makes me uncomfortable. "Not much. Not like Maria."

"How long have you been painting?"

"Three years."

"And how many languages do you speak?"

"What is this about?" My father steps back into the room.

"Nothing." Prince Metternich is quick to add, "Just idle curiosity." But when he looks back at me, I feel compelled to answer.


He smiles widely. "As accomplished as any Hapsburg archduchess should be."

Chapter 2

Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese

Fontainebleau Palace, south of Paris

November 1809

I stand in front of the mirror before he comes in, and as usual, I am shocked to see just how beautiful I am. I don't mean beautiful in the way that Josephine is beautiful. All that woman has are her great cow's eyes and a head of thick curls. I mean exquisitely beautiful, like one of Bartolini's marble statues. At twenty-nine, you would think I would already be losing my looks. But my waist is long and slender, and because I only gave birth once, my breasts are still high and taut. I turn, so that I can admire the effect of my Grecian gown from behind. In the candlelight, it is perfectly transparent.

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The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Maria_de_Madrid More than 1 year ago
This is the first book by Moran I've read. I want to improve my English so I read a lot of books - not only historical fiction, but also biographies and History books -, as I do with French or Italian. The main reason because I chose The Second Empress is that I know pretty well the Napoleonic Era, so reading it would be easier to me. Marie Louise of Austria is one of the less favored figures of Napoleon's court. Of course there are several biographies on her. But as historical fiction is concerned, la bonne Louise - as Napoleon called her - doesn't get many love. Everybody prefers to write about Josephine, Marie Walewska or Desirée. So an historical novel about her seemed a refreshing and very original take on Napoleon's reign. And besides that, making her likeable is a challenge, for she was not. I know historians have been harsh on her, and probably is unfair to expect a weak-minded and easily manipulatable woman like Marie Louise could have reacted in any other way. However... however, the thing I cannot stand about her it's her behavior, rather indifferent, to her eldest child, Napoleon II. After his father's downfall the poor boy lived the rest of his short life as a prisoner in Vienna, stripped of his name, his heritage, his language and being virtually abandoned by his mother. By the way, I was surprised to read in the final note that the King of Rome is buried in Vienna, because his remains are in Paris since 1940. Intrigued by how the author would tell Marie Louise's story I was waiting eagerly to read the book. What a disappointment! What bothers me the most is the claim - see the historical note at the end of the book - of being accurate and close to the actual facts. I could not recognize the historical figure in Moran's character. First, her name. She never was known as Maria or Maria Lucia. Her family called her Luisl. As I said before, Napoleon called her Louise, so the story about 'oh, lets change her name to some more French' is one of the many liberties Moran has taken. No, I don't expect historical fiction being completely accurate. But I do expect some resemblance to historical, well-know facts. Of course she was not Neipperg's lover before 1814. They first met on 1812 by the way, during the empress stay in Dresden. Years later, in 1814, Neipperg was sent to Marie Louise's side to observe - or rather, spy - her and prevent her reunion with Napoleon in Elba, something that she was more or less determined to do.... Until she fell in love with Neipperg. The fact that both of them were married and with young children didn't prevent Neipperg and Marie Louise to go ahead with their relationship. The count's wife died in 1815. Few months after Napoleon's death, the former Empress became Neipperg's wife. By that moment she was the Duchess of Parma, and had two children with her beloved Neipperg. They didn't live with her, for she was afraid of the scandal. They didn't even know she was her mother until several years later. After Neipperg's death in 1829, Marie Louise married a third time with Count Charles-René de Bombelles. Being Spanish, I know very well all the negative aspects of Napoleon. Despite all this, what I learned at the school and what I have after years of research is a balanced view about him. In The Second Empress, this historical figure, so complex and fascinating, is reduced to a mere caricature. Even for a historical novel, this biased and unbalanced portrait remains too superficial.
kopsahl More than 1 year ago
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)
B-2 More than 1 year ago
Basically, a soap opera which happen to be set in the Napoleonic era. It’s not that the book is particularly bad or boring. It’s just if you read any good recent non-fiction (ex.”Napoleon” of Andrew Roberts), the same events and personalities will show themselves to be much more complex, multidimensional and interesting, instead of black/white melodramatic caricatures presented here. I grade books as Buy and Keep ( BK), Read a Library Copy (RLC) and Once-I-Put-It-Down-I-Couldn’t-Pick-It-Up (OIPD-ICPU). This one was a light-weight RLC.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like the writing and the characters in this book. She got me hooked into wanting to know what happened next to the characters. I have read most all of her books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a highly entertaining and well researched novel. With two young kids, I was able to read this in three nights! It was easy to follow, learn from, and I really loved the character development. The only thing I would have liked was a map of where the battles were and islands of excile. Great overall read!
pagese More than 1 year ago
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 of my favorite British Monarch's!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just enough history with a fantastic story line. Would recommend to anyone,
LaughingMagpie More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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."
Mirella More than 1 year ago
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.
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BooksMania More than 1 year ago
Having read Madame Tussaud, of course this one has to follow ! I deeply enjoyed it, and the only thing that spoiled it a little was Pauline's  incestuous thoughts toward her brother. The first half of the book reminded me of another novel, The Queen's Confession by Victoria Holt. Marie Antoinette's preparation for marriage and trip to France and adjusting to the new Court is very much alike. For whom enjoyed  this , I recommend other similar books.  So far, my second favorite after Madame Tussaud, followed by Nefertiti.
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ToReadPerchancetoDream More than 1 year ago
I thought this book would be interesting because I honestly didn't remember much I had learned about Napoleon in school except he was short and grumpy. The Second Empress by Michelle Moran does include the basic history of Napoleon and his two wives. The novel is separated into chapters in which one of three characters narrate. I don't like books written this way because I ALWAYS get confused about who is "speaking" at the time. I muddled through that and found the book an enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a quick read on the Napolian French period. The story gives life to key players during Napolians final years. It makes you want to know more while framing the three person narrative of Napolians second wife,his sister, and her lover. If you loved Cleopatra's Daughter you should enjoy this
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