The Second Empress by Michelle Moran
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. (Goodreads)
Napoleon is desperate for an heir and is about to divorce his wife Josephine. For his second wife he chooses 18-year old Marie-Louise, daughter of the king of Austria and great-niece of Marie-Antoinette.
Marie-Louise is not happy to be married to a man she despises but she knows her duty which keeps her father from losing his crown and the country out of war. Agreeing to this she know she won’t be acting as her brother’s regent when the time comes, and must leave behind the man she loves.
In France she gets an enemy of Napoleon’s sister Pauline, Princess Borghese. Pauline believes Napoleon is set to be the next Pharaoh of Egypt and the would rule it together like the ancient Egyptians did. Pauline is very jealous of her brother and the women he marries.
Paul Moreau is Pauline’s servant who came with her from Haiti to France. He’s been in love with her for years from afar but also sees her faults and feels sympathy for the new empress.
I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this because I don’t know much about France and I’m not a fan of Napoleon. But this was fairly quick and easy read.
I liked Maria-Lucia, or Marie-Louise as she was known in France, and how she was portrayed. She had to mature fast to survive in France and she managed to act with dignity despite being humiliated by Napoleon on numerous occasions. I liked how she became friends with Josephine’s daughter Hortense and found some friendship there.
Napoleon isn’t portrayed here in good light but I didn’t have good image of him before either. Pauline went little to the crazy side but Napoleon was just an idiot.
Maria-Lucia was in love with Count Adam von Neipperg and in this book they were lovers before Maria-Lucia went to France. I know she and Adam got married later but it got me thinking how accurate this was. She was king’s daughter, and meant to be future regent, and was just having an affair that wasn’t even a huge secret? Her father just accepted it? This had me rolling my eyes but I liked Adam and he was way better than Napoleon so I’ll just live with that.
I would have wanted to read more about what Maria-Lucia thought about when she heard that Hortense was to be her lady-in-waiting and what she thought about Josephine.
This wasn’t her best book but then again I’m fan of Egypt anyway but I liked this. I’m curious about her next book because I haven’t read anything about India so that should be interesting.
Published: Quercus (2012)