The Accidental Empress

The Accidental EmpressThe Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Howard Books on February 1, 2015
Pages: 512

 

Fifteen-year-old Sisi is ecstatic to accompany her mother and older sister, Helene, to the Habsburg court for Helen’s betrothal to the young, powerful, Emperor Franz Joseph. As soon as Sisi and Franz lay eyes on one another, however, they are immediately drawn together, and it is only a matter of time before Sisi has fallen for him and finds that he returns her feelings. Drawn to Sisi’s innocent charm and fervent spirit, Franz ends the betrothal with Helene and soon declares his intentions to make Sisi his wife. From obscurity to instant fame, Sisi is thrust into the world of the dangerous, glittering imperial court and one of Europe’s most famous royal families of that day. Though the struggles and challenges were unknown to her at first, Sisi takes up the cause of her people, fighting to win their love and approval, even as she fights for her husband’s love and the approval of her strict, cold, mother-in-law. Through it all, Sisi fights to maintain her own valiant spirit and inadvertently becomes one of the most fascinating women of the Habsburg Empire.

I was immediately drawn into the story of Sisi. Her desire to live a life on her own terms drew me to her character instantly, though I feared for her once she arrived at the Habsburg court.

I knew very little of Empress Elisabeth, or Sisi, as she was often called, prior to reading The Accidental Empress. I do remember reading about the absolute power of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and how that power was often precarious in nature. I can imagine that the emperor breaking his engagement to a suitable mate and queen would have caused quite the uproar, and I feel that Pataki has captured that perfectly in this novel. I was immediately drawn into the story of Sisi. Her desire to live a life on her own terms drew me to her character instantly, though I feared for her once she arrived at the Habsburg court. Pataki really brings the court to life – full of sumptuous feasts, lavish gowns and more enemies than friends, life at court is opulent, beautiful and treacherous.

Her mother-in-law, Sophie, tries to force her into the mold of what she deems the appropriate empress and wife for her son, but Sisi chafes under such tutelage. It is soon clear that Sisi will make her own way in court and out, not as a pawn for her mother-in-law, but as an ally for her husband and beloved Hungarian subjects. The intrigue and political climate present in the novel is palpable. At times, the political strain of the court and European stage made my head spin. I can’t imagine my every decision having such high stakes on a political level and being subject to such scrutiny on a personal level through my peers at court. So many times I wanted Sisi to stand up for herself, but that made it all the more special when she finally achieved her own personal and political victories. The setting itself is so well-done; the glittering court, the dramatic nature of their day-to-day moments, it all came to life for me and was the most fascinating part of the novel for me.

While this is by no means a cheerful novel as a whole, it is a compelling, honest, engrossing look at what the real Empress Sisi’s life might have been like.

At times, it was hard to read about the struggles and injustices that Sisi had to endure – a distant husband, separation from her children and, with the exception of a handful of people, she must endure much of it alone. Other people control the emperor’s life, and therefore, her life as well. Still, the Sisi that Pataki created fights hard for her happiness and doesn’t easily relinquish control of her life. While this is by no means a cheerful novel as a whole, it is a compelling, honest, engrossing look at what the real Empress Sisi’s life might have been like. Although much of it seemed to be filled with trials, her life was not without its triumphs and eventual joys.

The spiritual aspect of the story is certainly more of an undertone instead of a main thread. Since they considered emperors to be divinely appointed, acknowledging God was a given; whether they lived like they believe in Him was one thing. It made for an interesting dichotomy when compared to how Franz Joseph and his mother felt like they were excused from certain morals because of their appointed rights as royalty. Sisi herself does come to realize God’s hand in her personal and political victories, but only after much suffering and indignities. While I didn’t always agree with her actions, I can’t imagine how it would feel to experience such pressures and double-standards as a woman that her husband wasn’t expected to follow.

Allison’s writing is captivating, her descriptions and period detail are fantastic and her character’s emotions are genuine and heart-stirring.

This was my first novel by Allison Pataki, and the second of her published works. I definitely want to check out her first novel and hope that she is penning more. Allison’s writing is captivating, her descriptions and period detail are fantastic and her character’s emotions are genuine and heart-stirring. With rich details and an in-depth portrayal of a famous royal, I easily recommend The Accidental Empress to fans of historical fiction.

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