Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book Thoughts - The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran
published 9/12
audiobook - narrated by Adam Alexi-Malle, Emma Bering, and Tanya Franks

Synopsis from publisher -

 After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon’s power is absolute. When eighteen year old Marie-Louise is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon or refuse and plunge her country into war. To save her father's throne, Mary-Louise is determined to be a good wife. But at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her new husband’s affection, including Napoleon’s sister Pauline, who is fiercely jealous, utterly uncontrollable, and the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. When war once again sweeps the Continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise’s family, the second empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history—and change the course of her life.

My thoughts -

I had worried for a while that I was burned out on historical fiction, but then I decided to give Michelle Moran a try, and guess what? Nope. I can still be carried away by a great historical saga, and this was certainly one.

I have always found Napoleon to be a strangely fascinating historical figure, I think probably because I enjoyed The Josephine B. Trilogy so much. Moran's Napoleon is definitely the bad guy, portrayed as egomaniacal, single-minded, and often just plain cruel. Napoleon's sister doesn't fare much better, and though much of her behavior may be attributed to mercury poisoning (one of the explanations given by Moran in her afterword), Pauline is definitely a character the reader can love to hate.

Marie-Louise, however, is extremely sympathetic - strong, honorable, loving, sometimes even funny - and Moran's heroine is easily strong enough to carry the novel. Moran's use of three narrators gives readers an interesting perspective on events, but as the novel progressed I grew extremely weary of Pauline's jealous ramblings, and somewhat confused as to what Paul's purpose in the story really was. I would have been much happier sticking with Marie-Louise, who truly was a compelling figure.

Moran can certainly write, though - I never wanted to stop reading, and only found the narrative to slow down a bit towards the end, primarily when we left Marie-Louise and moved to the other two narrators. I did some research after I finished the novel and it seems that some of Moran's plot points were not actually historically accurate - most specifically Marie-Louise's relationship with a member of the Austrian court - and that was disappointing to me, because this novel certainly could have done without that inaccuracy.

The audiobook was well done, and I thought the three narrators did a fine job of portraying their individual characters. Each seemed to capture well the essence of the person they were chosen to represent.

I really enjoyed this novel, and will definitely look to read more by this author. I understand from comments online that this is not generally accepted as her best work, which just makes me more anxious to read more. Because of the historical inaccuracy, I would recommend this novel with reservations - it was very entertaining, but I would have preferred the author to stick a bit closer to the real story.

Finished - 8/16/13
Source - audiobook from the library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for adult situations
My rating - 6/10 (would definitely have been higher without the inaccuracy)


bermudaonion said...

So many of my friends love Moran's work. I read one of her books earlier this year and it didn't grab me. Maybe I picked the wrong book. . .

Anna said...

I can't wait to read this one. I've enjoyed the 3 Moran books I've read so far. I don't mind inaccuracies sometimes, like when the author makes a note of it and explains why they went that route, since it is fiction, but I can understand why you'd be disappointed. Great review!

Aarti said...

I just added this to my audiobook wish list because I have heard so many good things about Moran. I know what you mean about histfict, too. I used to gorge on it and now I think I really shy away from European historical fiction. But I do think a truly sweeping story would still capture my interest.

Meghan said...

Moran is definitely one of the exceptions to my exhaustion with historical fiction, too. Her books are always good. I agree with you on this one, though; I didn't like Paul or Pauline nearly as much as I liked Marie Louise, but I still enjoyed the read. Moran's earlier books are indeed better.