Ok, let's talk about these covers. Seriously.
(The one on the left is the cover circulating in the states right now.)
I mentioned the ugly cover situation when I read Moran's last novel, Madam Tussaud, and expressed my inability to understand why someone would ever have approved it. (I apologize if you enjoy these covers - I guess it's a preference). If it's an issue with my character, so be it. While I won't judge a novel on its cover art, or not entirely anyway, I'll admit a well designed cover will catch my attention and at least get me reading the jacket. This one... Not. so. much.
But I really liked Madame Tussaud. It was a historical novel about a female figure I didn't know much about and seemed to offer just enough truth and fiction for it to be smart and entertaining. So when I heard about The Second Empress I requested it from the library with the expectation that she would do it again.
Hmmm.. yes and no.
I'll be clear and say that I haven't read Moran's other novels about similar women in compromising/uncomfortable/crazy political situations in years past, but I've seen enough reviews to think she has a loyal following and reviews that state it's quality material.
The Second Empress follows the life of Maria Louisa of Austria after Napoleon Bonaparte has chosen her to be his
After completing the novel, which I managed to polish off pretty quickly, I noticed that several people mentioned an annoyance with the multiple narrators and the fact that a story told from so many perspectives leaves a lot to be desired. It's clear that Maria Louisa finds herself in a miserable situation, but Moran doesn't ever really tap into Maria's emotions. The characters are one dimensional and lack their own voices. They all seem to possess the same pattern of thought, which seems highly unlikely as one character thinks of sleeping with and marrying their sibling, another longs to be home with their family and another reflects upon the life of conflict and misery they've left behind. I don't know about you, but it seems that three people in very different places wouldn't be going through the same steps of cognition and action. *I shrug my shoulders* Furthermore, despite the gossip the French court is infamous for, Maria Louisa speaks of her discomfort quite freely to individuals she's just met (all to keep the reader up to speed) which seemed completely unrealistic. So... I certainly had some issues.
Despite my annoyances with bits of this novel I did find it highly entertaining. Plus, I ended up walking away much more interested in each of these figures. Moran states that much of her writing is built on information she's gained from some of the most credible scholars of these public figures, but I wouldn't mind seeking out some nonfiction on these events to get another perspective. What type of person was Maria Louisa? Were Pauline and Napoleon actually engaged in incestuous relations? What role did Paul Moreau really play in the lives of Pauline and Napoleon?
If you enjoy historical fiction with a whole lotta drama this is a must-read!