The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
Pub. Date: February 17, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Howard Books!!)
Summary: The year is 1853, and the Hapsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia and Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and read to marry.
Fifteen-year-old Sisi – Elisabeth, duchess of Bavaria – travels to the Hapsburg court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young emperor. But shortly after her arrival, Sisi finds herself in an unexpected dilemma: she has inadvertently fallen for and won the heart of her sister’s fiance. Intrigued by Sisi’s guileless charm and energetic spirit, not to mention her unrivaled beauty, Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead.
Plucked from obscurity and thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi has no idea what struggles and dangers – and temptations – await her. She upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor, her people, and the world.
Genre: Historical fiction
Recommended for: Fans of biographical fiction, court life, rich details, and fantastic storytelling!
When I grabbed Pataki’s debut, The Traitor’s Wife completely by chance last year, I had no idea just how hard I would fall for this new author. Her storytelling blew me away and she took a person I knew very little about (Peggy Shippen, socialite bride of Benedict Arnold) and gave her life. Over the course of a few hundred pages, Pataki took this complete stranger and turned her into someone I not only cared about, but craved further knowledge of (and bless her for a fantastic list of research material/books compiled at the end!). So when I heard about her upcoming novel – this time taking place in the mid-1800s in the Hapsburg court – it was a no-brainer: I needed this book.
The lovely people at Howard Books are too, too good to me and they sent along a review copy my way. I received it in November, I read it in November. That right there should tell you a little something. Can an author be declared a favorite after only one book? What about two? While I don’t believe there exists a magical number for this, it’s clear Allison Pataki has carved a special place for herself in my heart and I guarantee you I will read anything she puts out!
Rich, powerful, and young, Emperor Franz Joseph is the most eligible bachelor in the world. When word is sent to Bavaria that he seeks the hand of the eldest duchess, it certainly comes as a shock – a rather liberal approach to parenting hasn’t exactly groomed the children for life as nobility let alone royalty! Helene is a meek, pious girl and horrifically shy, so it comes as no surprise when Franz Joseph finds himself captivated by bold, opinionated Sisi. As the pair spend more time together, their favorite outing traveling the countryside on horseback, Franz’s interest deepens and he reneges on his earlier proposal – much to the dismay of his mother Sophie. Through her son, Sophie essentially rules the empire and she is not pleased to discover her choice for bride has been turned down. If only Sisi had realized just what she was getting herself into.
Still in her teens, Sisi is virtually on her own; Sophie has made her feelings clear and Franz always sides with his mother. As the once-happy marriage begins to crumble – and the longed-for heir never arrives, just daughter after daughter – the pressure takes its toll. It’s not until a trip to Hungary that Sisi receives the love and respect she’s been craving and it’s this country and these people that will play a vital role in Sisi’s life.
What constitutes as a spoiler when it comes to historical fiction? Halfway through the novel I was so enchanted by this family and these characters that I wanted to know more. I should have known better than to head over to Wikipedia, but my history buff heart was a-flutter. Things don’t end well for anyone involved and The Accidental Empress gives a hint of things to come. As much as I held out hope for Sisi, I knew her decline was imminent. In her later life she became somewhat fanatical about her weight and the barest of whispers were evident here. Sophie took Sisi’s children away, dictated every waking second of her life. It really is remarkable Sisi managed to hold out for so long.
Because this is historical fiction, there are a few changes made and Pataki discusses this. Personally I enjoyed the story immensely, minor reworkings and all – at least here Sisi found a few moments of happiness.
The Accidental Empress proves Allison Pataki is not a one-hit wonder; this woman is here to stay and, my goodness, does she have stories to tell! As with The Traitor’s Wife, I savored every chapter, relished over every paragraph when I normally would race to the end. Here, however, I took my time and when I finally finished (only four days later – and to be honest, I’m surprised I finished that quickly: this is a big book that demands a lot of attention) I felt hollow. I wasn’t ready to let go and give up these people I had come to care for. Pataki describes the Hapsburg court in such vivid detail it was jarring to look up and realize I was in my living room (sadly, nowhere close to being anything as grand as a palace).
As much as I love chatting about books I adore, I absolutely dread having to review them. The Accidental Empress hit me hard and I’m still reeling from the blow. I laughed, I teared up, I wanted to swoop in and save this child from her horrible future (not to mention awful mother-in-law). Pataki positively shines in this novel and there isn’t a single sentence I can string together that could fully describe how much I loved this book. The Accidental Empress is a story to cherish and absolutely, positively a book I’ll be recommending whole-heartedly.