Michelle Moran's fifth book has just been released (14th August) and I'm glad I had the chance to read it in advance receiving my review copy from NetGalley. It's a new brilliant tale set in those year I like to think of as The Regency - being more interested in English literature than French history - but set in France and Austria. It's a gripping tale of feelings and emotions which I wanted to share with you immediately after finishing it . That is now!
Synopsis of the book (from the author’s Official Site)
National bestselling author Michelle Moran returns to Paris, this time under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as he casts aside his beautiful wife to marry a Hapsburg princess he hopes will bear him a royal heir.
After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon’s power is absolute. When Marie-Louise, the eighteen year old daughter of the King of Austria, is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon, leaving the man she loves and her home forever, or say no, and plunge her country into war.
Marie-Louise knows what she must do, and she travels to France, determined to be a good wife despite Napoleon’s reputation. But lavish parties greet her in Paris, and at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her husband’s affection, including Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine, and his sister Pauline, the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. Beloved by some and infamous to many, Pauline is fiercely loyal to her brother. She is also convinced that Napoleon is destined to become the modern Pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, her greatest hope is to rule alongside him as his queen—a brother-sister marriage just as the ancient Egyptian royals practiced. Determined to see this dream come to pass, Pauline embarks on a campaign to undermine the new empress and convince Napoleon to divorce Marie-Louise.
As Pauline’s insightful Haitian servant, Paul, watches these two women clash, he is torn between his love for Pauline and his sympathy for Marie-Louise. But there are greater concerns than Pauline’s jealousy plaguing the court of France. While Napoleon becomes increasingly desperate for an heir, the empire’s peace looks increasingly unstable. When war once again sweeps the continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise’s family in Austria, the second Empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history—and change the course of her life.
Based on primary resources from the time, The SecondEmpress takes readers 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.
My book review
|Marie Louise Hapsburg|
Very well-researched and historically accurate, The Second Empress, Michelle Moran’s just released historical novel , has been a delightful surprise for someone like me with no sympathy for the Bonapartes. As many documents witness, the legend of Napoleon is very different from the reality of the man: he was a military genius but the admirable skills he showed in the battlefield weren’t extended to his personal life. He was a tyrannical person, a selfish, cynical , disrespectful lover and husband.
To write her account of Napoleon’s last 6 years of reign, Michelle Moran relied on the thousands of letters that have been preserved from his court, some of which are included in the novel. She also used the memoirs of Marie – Louise, Hortense Beauharnais (Josephine’s daughter), Madamoiselle Durand, Monsieur Montholon and Napoleon himself.
I particularly like the fact that the story is not told by one narrator but three, and with a great choice of voices.
|Pauline Bonaparte Borghese|
Three of the protagonists lead the reader through the incredible turns of fortune in the lives of the Bonapartes, three very different perspectives on the man, the emperor and the years which led him to his final destiny: Pauline Borghese, Napoleon’s infamous sister who “was married to a Prince but had a courtesan’s appetite for men” ; the second Empress herself, Marie-Louise of Hapsburg, and Pauline's Haitian chamberlain, Paul Moran, who might be in love with his mistress but whose sympathies fall with Marie-Louise, who like him has to live missing and longing her native country.
Michelle Moran is a skilled writer and her fifth book is definitely worth reading . It is fast paced but , at the same time it gives a sensitive in-depth of the protagonist’s feelings and secret thoughts . It is an immersion into the emotions which history text-books usually ignore. Furthermore, it is focused on how the female part of that world experienced those crucial events.
You can but feel compassion and admiration for young Austrian princess Maria Lucia, forced into a marriage to a man both she and her father despised:
“Austria had been beaten, her royal house humiliated, and the Hapsburg Emperor had been forced to give his daughter to the son of a petty Corsican nobleman” (p. 81)
Though compelled to renounce her name (Napoleon called her Marie-Louise), her lover Adam Neipperg, her beloved dog Sigi, her dream of being loved and respected, she bore all of that with great dignity and bravery and became the second Empress of France after Napoleon dismissed his first wife, Josephine. Her life was at the whim of a capricious ruler used to get things his way always and easily. She held on and her courage was rewarded in the end.
You’ll be moved by Marie-Louise’s thread of the story, especially when she fears for her son’s life (Napoleon preferred his own son dead rather than brought up as an Austrian prince!) but you’ll also be fascinated by Pauline’s obsession for men, her brother and power and charmed by her Haitian chamberlain’s selfless loyalty to her , by his handsomeness as well as by his romantic attitude to life and love.
On the author’s site you’ll find some excerpts , press reviews, more details about the characters and a Q/A post .