Stunning in form, theme, and plot, Moran’s fifth historical novel (after Madame Tussaud) shines a spotlight on the Emperor Napoleon, the love of his life and first Empress Josephine, the family members who clamored to share his spotlight, and Marie-Louise, the Austrian princess who became his second Empress. Narrated from three different perspectives, including that of Napoleon’s infamous sister Pauline, her Haitian servant Paul, and Marie-Louise, the novel follows Napoleon from his height of fame in 1809 when he desperately tries to secure his succession by acquiring a second wife until his disastrous invasion of Russia and concluding with his return from exile in Elba and the Battle of Waterloo. Marie-Louise is simply huggable; torn from her family and marrying Napoleon to protect her father, she embodies the era’s idea of duty and Europe’s fear of the unstable Emperor.
Verdict: Don’t hesitate to purchase this beautifully written gem, which is certain to shoot to the top of the charts, if not start a craze for “everything Moran.”
Opening her new novel (after Madame Tussaud) in 1809, Moran studiously applies her research into Napoleon and his family to compelling fiction. Ostensibly the portrait of Marie-Louise of Austria, who became Napoleon’s second wife, the novel’s title could as easily apply to the emperor’s sister, Pauline. Her sexual exploits, unnatural closeness to her brother, and obsession with ancient Egypt contribute delightful color. She badgers Napoleon to ignore Russia, divorce his new wife, and establish their kingdom in Egypt, which, following the example of the Ptolemies, they could rule as both brother-and-sister and husband-and-wife. Effortlessly switching the point of view from Marie-Louise to Pauline to Pauline’s Haitian chamberlain, Paul, the picture of Napoleon that emerges is less than favorable, unlike that of Marie-Louise. Great-niece of Marie Antoinette, she was raised to serve as regent for her younger brother and educated like a king. When Napoleon left her as regent, she exhibited a remarkable ability to rule. The empire brought great wealth to France, and Napoleon and his family spent it with abandon. Another enjoyable historical from Moran.
Express, UK newspaper
HISTORY remembers the marriage of Napoleon to Josephine as one of the greatest ever love stories. But what of his second wife Maria Lucia – Archduchess of Austria? If there’s a female historical figure whose story needs telling Michelle Moran is the woman to do it. The talented American novelist has paid tribute to many a heroine from Nefertiti to Mme Tussaud with her immensely readable fiction.
Incredibly, just 11 years after the execution of Marie-Antoinette in the name of liberté, égalité and fraternité, France crowned its first emperor – Napoleon Bonaparte. The political and social chaos left in the wake of the French Revolution had facilitated Napoleon’s rise to power and his conquest of much of western Europe.
But Napoleon’s staggering military career is of secondary interest to Moran. Her story begins with the diminutive Corsican divorcing his beloved Josephine. The search is then on to find her successor, whose task will be to provide Napoleon with an heir. His eye lights on Maria Lucia. Austria has been defeated by Napoleon’s armies and the Hapsburg empire is at his mercy so her father has little choice but to hand her over.
Marie-Louise, as she becomes known, reluctantly takes on the terrible duty. Napoleon orders his people to accept his “second empress”, which is little consolation to his lonely, loathing wife. Marie-Louise’s only consolation comes from her new son and her unlikely friendship with Josephine’s daughter Hortense, whom Napoleon appoints as her lady-in-waiting.
While the title implies this is Marie-Louise’s story the author interweaves it with narratives from two other significant characters. The first is Napoleon’s sister Pauline Bonaparte who has an obsession with her brother and his power. The second is Paul Moreau, Pauline’s Haitian chamberlain. Both characters are interesting. The beautiful Pauline is battling “the clap” as a result of her promiscuous lifestyle. Paul, whom she has named after herself, is besotted with the mistress he is there to protect.
The novel stretches from 1809 to 1821 in just under 350 pages. While sharing the story between three different narrators may make for a fast-paced read it also leaves the reader feeling hungry for more. Pauline is infinitely more interesting than her sister-in-law, which might leave fans wondering why Moran didn’t opt to write The Second Bonaparte instead.