Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Kim's Review: The Second Empress - A Novel of Napoleons Court

The Second Empress is Michelle Moran's latest offerring. Her second in the Europe series after Madame Tussaud and her 5th novel, 3 of which Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra's Daughter are set in Egypt. Having read 4 out of her 5 books, I can definitely say that her books set in Europe are more realistic than her historical fictions set in Egypt and are eminently more pleasurable to read.

Personally, with my exposure to Egypt and its history, I feel Michelle tries to impose a European sensibility even in her Egyptian novels and that doesn't sit right for me, but may work well for her European readers.

Her next 2 books are set in India and the next novel is based on Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi.

I found the Second Empress as pleasurable as Madame Tussaud. The book is well researched and well written.

I have just a passing knowledge of European History and I just knew the bare bones about Napoleon except for his raiding of Egypt. The facts I knew about him, could be summed up as
1. short stature
2. conquered large parts of Europe and North Africa
3. loved his wife Josephine
4. was exiled to Elba (this because of the palindrome "able was I, I saw Elba")

Before I read this book, I did not even know that he had married a second time, after divorcing Josephine (who had a son & daughter from a previous marriage).

The Second Empress centers around Maria Lucia - Archduchess of Austria who is forced to marry Napoleon and transform herself into the French Empress Marie Louise to save Austria from being re-attacked by France after the already humiliating Treaty of Schonbrunn.

Napoleon was much older than her, he was hated in Austria for the humiliation he heaped on her father the Duke and the Austrian people, his first wife Josephine was loved by the French masses who considered her to be Napoleons good luck charm, his divorce from Josephine was not recognised by the church, her aunt Marie Antoinette had been beheaded just a few years before by the French public, she was already in love with Count Adam Neipperg, she was being groomed to be regent when her father died as her brother sufferred from some kind of mental illness and she had been brought up to hate France. Inspite of all this, Marie Louise finds herself forced into marriage with Napoleon.

The other voice in this book is that of Pauline Bonaparte - Napoleons sister. As ambitious as him, if not more so. By the time the book starts Pauline has already buried one husband, taken numerous lovers and is married again to an Italian noble. She however only dreams of ruling Egypt as her brothers wife.

The final voice in the tale is that of Paul Moreau, Pauline's Haitian chamberlain who is in love with her. He provides a commoners/slaves point of view to the tale.

Napoleons family is as headstrong as him and constantly give him grief from their behaviour. Jospehine's daughter is forced to attend to Marie Louise and Pauline constantly tries to convince her brother to return to Egypt to rule with her.

The book covers Napoleons days of glory, his defeat and exile to Elba, his second bid for power and Marie Louise's subsequent independence from him.

The history in itself is fascinating and Michelle has woven an even more riveting tale through the facts with emotions and a humanising of the historical characters. While it is slightly in the Historical chicklit genre, there is a lot of history and facts that are revealed through the tale. Most women would enjoy this book, but I'm not so sure if men would. Honestly, Madame Tussaud is the only one of Michelles books that I would recommed to my husband, knowing the kind of books he prefers to read, but I'd unhesitatingly recommend The Second Empress to all my female friends.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

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