I loved Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution, which I believe was her first book. The main character was believable and not overwrought, and the story held true to the events of the French Revolution without excruciating detail. I also enjoyed her Heretic Queen. Her latest novel, The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court, was on my anticipated releases list, but definitely not my favorite.
The story follows the adventures of Napoleon after he has become conqueror to the time of his fall. Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria becomes Napoleon’s second wife after he divorces Josephine (well, technically before he divorces, but whatever). She is forced into the marriage and oh so unhappy, but makes do. The chapters alternate between three perspectives: Marie Louise, Pauline, Napoleon’s selfish nymphomaniac sister, and Paul, Pauline’s Haitian courtier.
To be honest, I hate this, let’s call it, Phillipa Gregory “technique” that pervades so much historical fiction. The alternating chapters never give you enough time with any one character. They feel like coverups for underdeveloped characters and laziness in storytelling. Michelle Moran has done much better so I was disappointed to see the book laid out that way.
While the novel is called the Second Empress, the only character with any real depth or development is Paul, the courtier. I wish Moran had stayed with him and written a different novel. Overall not my favorite, no Madame Tussaud, but a quick read (even I finished this one in four days).