The Second Empress | Michelle Moran | Book Review

Michelle Moran has a gift for making history come alive. She makes people who lived over one hundred years ago seem as though they are living and breathing now. Her latest book The Second Empress: A Novel Of Napoleon’s Court takes on the period of time when Marie-Louise, a Hapsburg princess became the empress of France. While The Second Empress is not quite on par with Moran’s Madame Tussaud, it is still a compelling read about an interesting era of French history.

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran | Good Books And Good Wine

Napoleon Bonaparte is a bit of a warmonger (understatement) and has unchecked power in France. When it comes out that Josephine, his wife, has been cheating on him, he must divorce her to avoid embarrassment. On the search for a new wife, it comes to Napoleon’s attention that Marie-Louise, daughter of the king of Austria, is single. And so, to avoid making war with Napoleon, despite being unable to stand Napoleon, the king of Austria sends Marie-Louise away. And so, The Second Empress is about Marie-Louise’s time in France, interspersed with the narrative of Napoleon’s sister Pauline and Pauline’s chamberlin, Paul.

Marie-Louisa had the most compelling voice of the three point of view characters. She’s a strong lady who gives up everything she’s ever known in order to save her father’s kingdom. Basically, if she did not marry Napoleon, he would have started a war. I like that she tries to make the best of a bad situation. Obviously, Napoleon is still carrying a torch for Josephine. Further, there is no love between Marie-Louisa and Napoleon. Yet, Marie-Louisa does what she must, and as I reader I could not help but root for The Second Empress and hope that everything would turn out alright in the end for Marie-Louisa. I also have to admit that I had to make myself not look up spoilers on wikipedia, because I was so invested in Marie-Louisa. She just comes across as very level-headed and thoughtful, and I tend to really like that in a character.

Pauline, Napoleon’s sister is also interesting too. She provides such a contrast to Marie-Louisa. Where Marie-Louisa is prim and proper and selfless, Pauline acts out of impropriety and selfishness. She is very fixated on Egypt and the whole brother-sister ruling together thing. She has a lot of lust for her brother, Napoleon, which is actually skin crawling. Yet, I think I liked reading about Pauline because she’s so wild. I liked that she defied convention, even though I did not always agree with what she did.

Now, as for the last point of view character, Paul, I did not think he was as compelling as Pauline and Marie-Louisa. Paul basically serves to highlight the struggles in Haiti against French imperialism. Honestly, while Paul did have has moments that intrigued me, I felt like he was really there to teach a history lesson. He felt a bit superfluous to the plot. Personally, I would have rather that The Second Empress focus specifically on Marie-Louisa and Pauline, as Paul’s chapters felt like a disconnect. It just seemed jarring compared with the rest of the book.

I did like that Michelle Moran wove in some real life romance in The Second Empress. Before coming to France, Marie-Louisa has an affair with an Austrian Count. Their relationship is warm and loving. It did make her marriage to Napoleon that much more devastating. Yet, I am glad it was included, because there’s those threads of longing throughout the book. Honestly, I liked that the relationship, forbidden as it may be, gave me something to hope for as a reader. I kept hoping Marie would get her count in the end.

Moran is a competent writer and she truly does make history fascinating. However, I did not find The Second Empress to be nearly as compelling as Madame Tussaud. I suppose with this book, I never really felt an underlying current of danger or excitement as I did with Madame Tussaud. Don’t get me wrong, the plot was intriguing, but I just never really felt all that anxious for Marie-Louisa, Pauline or Paul. In all, The Second Empress is not quite as exciting. It also took me at least 50 pages to really get hooked.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, by all means read The Second Empress by Michelle Moran. It’s not her best work, yet it makes history accessible. At least one of the point of view characters are very compelling. The setting of Napoleon era France is engaging. I’ve read better though and could not help but think that the entire time I read spent reading this book, unfortunately.

Disclosure: Received for review via Amazon Vine

Other reviews of The Second Empress by Michelle Moran:

Between The Pages – “I didn’t feel an urgency while reading
Booking Mama – “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I loved it
Bookworm’s Dinner – “distinctive and spicy portrayal of powerful women

Books by Michelle Moran:
Madame Tussaud

The following two tabs change content below.
April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I’ve read two of Michelle’s books (Nefertiti & The Heretic Queen) and I really loved both of them. I didn’t know she had other books out, which to be honest I didn’t think to look. I’m sorry it didn’t quite live up to what you were expecting but I’m glad you still enjoyed it.
    I’ll have to make sure to remember to look for more of her books.

  2. This is one area of history we definitely didn’t study at school yet it really appeals to me and I really do want to be reading more hist. fic. Marie-Louisa sounds like a strong heroine which is fantastic – we need more of those!

  3. That cover dress is unfortunate. Also, Napole-ON just about killed me, so good work. Oh, and I want to read some Michelle Moran now, but maybe not this one.

  4. I think Ms. Moran’s Egyptian novels are proving to be better than her French novels. There is nothing wrong with them but there is something ultimately disappointing about them. I do love her book covers though. There is something eye-catching about all of them!

    Hopefully, her next book will live up to her previous books!

  5. I’m on the fence. I loved Madame Tussaud, and love historical fiction. I have this one on my list. I’ll probably still pick it up when I’m in the mood. Great review!

  6. I’m looking to get into the historical fiction genre, but I’m not sure if this is the one I should start with. I am interested in French history though since I’ve studied a bit of it through the years, so maybe I’ll give it a go one day.

  7. I am always fascinated by books that manage to take facts/events from history and weave them into a story that’s easy to read and interesting. It sounds like Marie-Louisa is a good character, and I’d be curious to find out just how her story plays out. After all, her circumstances sound very heartbreaking – and yet, you’ve said she makes the most of it. Curious, indeed! I’ll probably read this one, especially since I really enjoyed Madame Tussaud.