By Allison Pataki
ARC paperback, 436 pages
2015, Dial Press
ISBN: 9780812989052 (hardcover)
I received this book for free from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
Empress Elisabeth, known as Sisi, is married to Franz Joseph, the ruler of Austria-Hungary. She’s known to her people as the “fairy queen” and her incredible beauty is widely known. But as a free spirit and wandered, she is often chided and criticized for not standing by her husband and children. Sisi struggles to stand by her family while weathering rumors of love affairs and the impending troubles of the First World War and she’s torn between wanting to be true to herself and needing to do her duty.
This was an engaging read, primarily because Pataki made Sisi so relatable. As much as I love historical fiction, especially with royalty as the subject matter, I’ve never dreamed of being a princess or queen, because their lives were incredibly hard. When this story starts, Sisi has already weathered a difficult, loveless marriage and reached a compromise with her husband. But she still struggles to stand by him in the capital and perform under the restrictive and sometimes ridiculous rules that the royal family must live by. As a reader, I understood why she longed to visit her more remote castles with just a few of her trusted attendants – yet doing so always came with a price, for she was constantly criticized by the media and her own family for being so long away. This always made her want to stay away longer, and frankly I don’t blame her.
But Sisi is also immature and selfish. She constantly laments the fact that she wasn’t able to raise her first two children and that she feels distant from them. But she never makes an effort to repair their relationships, even when her troubled son Rudolph would clearly benefit from some motherly affection. There were times I wanted to shake her and tell her to grow up. I enjoyed that I was able to feel for her, but that I also wanted her to smarten up – it made her a very lively character.
As always, it’s nice to know when most of the major elements of the story are historically accurate and as Pataki mentions in her note, there seems to be plenty of material on the empress to work with.
If you like historical fiction, I highly recommend this.
Note: After reading this I’ve learned that Sisi is a sequel to The Accidental Empress. I didn’t know that going in and I don’t feel it’s essential when reading this to have read the first book.