Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Historical Fiction of Michelle Moran

I love good Historical Fiction. Books that are well-researched with three-dimensional characters and gripping plots, that just draw you into the reality of a distant time and place. Unfortunately, these books are hard to come by.

When I was at the Half Price Books Clearance Sale last month, I picked up a copy of Michelle Moran's "Nefertiti." While it wasn't what I'd call "Five Star Historical Fiction" it was good enough that I wanted to read her next book. And since "Nefertiti" was her first book, I thought there was a good chance that she would be even better in the next one.

I was right. "The Heretic Queen" (which follows Nefertiti's niece, Nefertari and her marriage to Rameses II during the Israelite Exodus) was better. But it was the third book, "Cleopatra's Daughter" (About Kleopatra Selene) that really pulled me in and secured my admiration. I loved it, and immediately recommended it to my mother. I've read several books about the Rome of Augustus Caeser, and this was the equal of any of them. Plus, despite being accurate about the horrors of the time period, it was seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old girl, thus toning down some of the graphicness included even in factual historical accounts of the era.

Moran's fourth book, "Madame Tussaud," follows the life of a woman we know for her famous waxworks museums. And the waxworks are amazing (I've seen some of them) but her life is even more fascinating. She lived during the French Revolution, and she and her family were friends with both the revolutionaries and the royals, a rare situation for anyone in that era. The result is an extremely complete look at the period that is rarely seen in fictional accounts. The only issue I had with the book was that it got a tad too long and detailed - otherwise it was a fantastic work.

Book #5 had the opposite problem - it was too short. Entitled "The Second Empress" it is the first of the books to utilize multiple narrators. Voice #1 belongs to Maria Louisa, the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte and the niece of Marie Antoinette. At just 19 she was forced to leave Austria and marry the man who had humiliated her country, and who was 30 years her senior. Voice #2 belongs to Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's promiscuous sister who is obsessed with ancient Egypt and more than half mad. Voice #3 belongs to Paul Moreau, Pauline's Chamberlain, a mulatto from Haiti who was a close personal friend to both Pauline and her brother.

UPDATE: I've since reviewed Book #6, "The Rebel Queen" here.

Each one of these books is a fascinating and captivating look into another time, and it feels as though you are really living with each of these very real personalities.

One caveat for younger readers - this is adult fiction. "The Heretic Queen," "Madame Tussaud," and "The Second Empress" all include sex scenes. They're short, well-written and sparsely utilized compared to most historical fiction, but they're there. "Madame Tussaud" and "Cleopatra's Daughter" are both set during extremely immoral and violent eras and are completely truthful when they relate some very difficult facts and scenes. I would not recommend any of these books for anyone under 18, or who was not comfortable with sex and violence.

However, these are a treat for any historically minded adult reader, and I am eagerly awaiting Moran's next novel, "The Empress of India."

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