The Second Empress

by Michelle Moran

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Random House mailed me a free uncorrected proof copy of this book before it was released. It sat on my shelf for a couple of years before I read it.

Without a proper dust jacket or finalized cover design the only insight I had into this book before I started reading it was the sub-title reference to Napoleon. Regardless it remained near the top of my want-to-read pile simply because I enjoy reading historical fiction. For me it's like a two-for-one special. It's nice to learn a little more about history while still getting the entertainment value that comes with a novel but does not come with a history text book. I think it is sad that most Americans, me included, don't know very much about European history. So I was happy to read about Napoleon and those around him and gain a little more insight into the enigma.

The book is told from the points of view of a few different people: Napoleon's sister, her Chamberlain, and his second wife being the key characters. The chapters rotate through the view points, always headed by the name of the person narrating the chapter in first person, the location and the time period (usually). Most of the chapters are short. Some of the characters had similar sounding names which could lead to confusion but Moran did an excellent job making each character uniquely distinct so that just by the tone of the speaker it was easy to tell who was talking.

Chapters are grouped into time periods. At the end of each section are letters that also occurred during the time period. I found this format a little odd. For example, in the 1810 section the chapters took place in March and April and December and some times in between. Then after the December chapter were a few pages of letters that had been written any time between March and December 1810 as well. At the back of the book, where I belatedly discovered a glossary, is an Historical Note that explains that the letters are authentic. There is also an Afterword which provides synopses of how the characters concluded their life.

Now that you've got insight into the structure of the book - the rest is up to you. I am glad to have discovered this author. She has a gift for making history relate-able and readable. Even if you just emerged from life under a rock and had no idea that Napoleon had ever been a real person (well, I'm not sure how you would even be able to read...) the book could be just as enjoyable with the supposition that all the characters were fictional. Moran takes us on a journey through family dynamics, politics and love - can those three things all co-exist? Read on and find for me, I'm heading out to find more books by Michelle Moran.

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by Michelle Moran