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 Second Empress 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.
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.
Pauline Bonaparte Borghese
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.