Saturday, April 21, 2018

803 (2018 #26). The Second Empress

by Michelle Moran,
read by Adam Alexi-Malle, Emma Bering, and Tanya Franks

I'm classifying Michelle Moran's The Second Empress as a historical romance because it strays so far from the historical record as to be almost a fantasy.  This book is set during the latter years of Napoleon's reign, from late 1809, when he divorced Josephine, to his exile to Elba in 1814.  The second empress is Marie Louise of Austria, who is one of the three narrators of this tale.  The other two are Napoleon's rakish sister Pauline Bonaparte, and Paul Moreau, the (fictional) Haitian mulatto servant and chamberlain Pauline brings back from Saint-Domingue after her first husband LeClerc dies there.

All of the audiobook readers use heavy accents (German for Marie, French for Paul and Pauline) in their reading, which makes them difficult to understand at times.  The actress who reads Pauline additionally gives her a languid attitude, perhaps fitting to the character, but I felt it made her even more difficult to comprehend.

I think the fact that this book is mostly fiction is another reason I nearly forgot about it after listening to it.  One example early on that really bothered me was Pauline complaining that she and her sisters were "sent to be maids in the grand Clary house" in Marseille and used for "sexual favors."  There's no proof for this whatsoever, in fact, Julie Clary, daughter of a silk merchant (not a nobleman) married Napoleon's brother Joseph.  Marie Louise's supposed love affair with Neipperg before marrying Napoleon also raised red flags for me - that would NEVER have happened with an archduchess in Catholic Austria!

This book *is* a novel, so it's okay if the story is not the whole truth, but to misrepresent history in the author's note at the end and imply truth where it does not exist is definitely *not* okay.  Moran states that she used primary sources; she did not.  Another reviewer did an excellent job outlining all the problems with this book, so I won't go into them here.  Suffice to say I really can't recommend this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[This e-audiobook was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]

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