Anisha’s Note: I’ve been on a bit of a Michelle Moran kick lately! I recently reviewed The Rebel Queen and reread Cleopatra’s Daughter. I promise I read new books as well, but I believe Gretchen Rubin’s principle that re-reading is the best reading.
The Second Empress by Michelle Moran
Napoleon Bonaparte, the undeniable ruler of France and perhaps soon all of Europe, is looking for a wife. Not just any wife, but one who is young, fertile, and most importantly, with clear lineage to the throne of France. And when Napoleon sets his sights on something, he gets it. When Napoleon decides that he wants to marry Maria Lucia, the eldest daughter of Francis II of Austria, she is forced to leave behind her home, family, and even her precious puppy to help save her homeland. Can Maria Lucia find happiness in her new home under the reign of Napoleon?
The Second Empress is a fictional take on the life of Maria Lucia, the Archduchess of Austria and second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. The story chronicles the later reign of Napoleon through the eyes of three unique characters: Maria Lucia, Napoleon’s disillusioned sister Pauline, and a Haitian servant named Paul. It’s a well-told, enjoyable piece of historical fiction.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but I did enjoy the story of Maria Lucia and her romantic interest. It is a bit simplified, and a bit of a princess-in-need-of-saving, but still sweet and light. It was a nice contrast to some of the darker parts of the relationship between Maria Lucia and Napoleon.
Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort
On one hand, Maria Lucia is characterized as weak, meek, and unable to stand up to her husband. However, that husband happens to be Napoleon Bonaparte, so perhaps we can give her a little grace here. Still, I wish we had seen a little more of Maria Lucia’s personality (and standing up for herself) throughout the story. At best, she’s portrayed as the sacrificial lamb given to Napoleon to allow her country to remain free.
Diversity Score: Good Effort
As mentioned above, this story is told from three perspectives, including Paul, a young Haitian servant who lives in France and serves the Bonaparte family. I was really impressed with Paul’s portrayal, and really enjoyed the descriptions of Haiti, his internal struggles about heritage and home, and his decisions in the book. This is only one character, but in a book focused on only a few (real) people, I was impressed with this fictional addition.
Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort
This book is an enjoyable, quick read, but it’s not perfect. My biggest qualm (and my qualm with historical fiction at large) is that it mixes fact and fiction. While the main characters are based on real people in history, Moran takes liberties with new characters, dates, and specific events to make a more romanticized plot.
Paul, the Haitian servant living in France. His unique perspective on the events (and people) around him are a wonderful addition to the story.
“No shame in crying” he tells me. “If we don’t cry for the dead, then what will we cry for?”
Is this worth a book hangover?
I think it’s a fun read, especially if you enjoy historical fiction, but I don’t think it’s quite hangover worthy.
Fun Author Fact
According to her website, Michelle Moran was inspired to write The Second Empress while researching her fourth novel, Madame Tussaud. She spent extensive time in France both for personal travel and to research the book.
Read This Next
Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built).
Post Author: Anisha
Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.