The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court
by Michelle Moran
Napoleon Bonaparte bulldozes his way across Europe, seizing cities, countries, and power. He is the most powerful man in the world, but two things are not his: royal blood and an heir. His wife of 14 years, the Empress Josephine, has not given him the child he desires, so Napoleon divorces her and marries Maria Lucia, daughter of the King of Austria and a Hapsburg princess. Within a year, a son is born, but unfortunately for Napoleon, an heir does not guarantee that power will remain in the Bonaparte family.
*This review is based on the talking points at this month’s book club meeting.
- 3 narrators. Since the point of view changes from Pauline, to Marie Louise, to Paul, the reader gets a fair, realistic view of Napoleon and all of the events that happen in his court.
- Depiction of Napoleon. By employing 3 narrators–none of whom are Napoleon himself–Moran gives the reader differing views of Napoleon that work together to help the reader come to her own conclusions about the emperor. I think it was wise to stay away from Napoleon as a narrator; leaving his thoughts out of the novel make it much more realistic. I think it would have been very risky and probably would have not been nearly as good of a story had Napoleon had his own voice.
- Use of actual quotes and letters. All of the quotes at the beginnings of the chapters are true, as are the letters included in the novel, minus a few identified by the author.
What Doesn’t Work:
- The cover art. We generally agreed that the picture looks like it’s from a bad romance novel. I know about the judging a book by its cover thing, but with as much research as this book obviously required, a better cover would make a huge difference.
Other Points of Discussion:
- Napoleonic Code. Napoleon’s real influence in history is in his legacy of Napoleonic Code. In Louisiana, this is especially interesting since we still function under these laws. While most people consider Napoleon to be a military genius,
- Marie Louise’s decision to marry Napoleon. Generally, the consensus was that Marie Louise’s decision was selfless, even though it would have been very difficult to make. It’s interesting to see how those in the royal class had such different lives than what we have today. Every decision really was political, even though it seems like they all lived in the lap of luxury without any thought to anyone but themselves.
As far as historical fiction goes, this is a decent example. Moran does not gloss over the less-than-savory bits and utilizes verified historical facts (including letters and such) in a satisfactory way. While this isn’t going on my list of favorites, it was worth a read and gave me an interesting view into a time period I haven’t studied much, especially not since college. Moran writes strong characters, especially the female ones, which is a nice contrast to Napoleon himself. As a result of reading this novel, I am interested in Moran’s other works, which I guess speaks for itself as a recommendation!
Mrs. Ethridge’s (condensed) Report Card: B-
Photo credit/Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Second-Empress-Napoleons-Novels/dp/0307953041