The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
Howard Books, 2015. Hardcover, 512 pages.
In this historical novel, a underexplored topic in history is uncovered. There are many historical novels set in 1800s Britain or America, but very few set in Austria. In The Accidental Empress, readers will follow the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria from her early teenage years until she is also crowned Queen of Hungary.
Elisabeth, or Sisi as she is known, was supposed to got to Vienna from her native Bavaria to accompany her sister, Helene, who was destined to marry Emperor Franz Joseph I (then a young adult). However, Sisi unwittingly captures her cousin the emperor’s attention and they become engaged instead. The novel then follows the couple’s early life including the birth of their first three children, a family illness, and infidelities. The couple must also cope with many political problems, including Hungary’s desire for independence and the Crimean War. Sisi must also cope with homesickness and a domineering aunt/mother-in-law who constantly finds ways to belittle her.
Perhaps on the surface this may seem to be a simple story, but it is not. Much of the novel focuses on Sisi’s thoughts and feelings, including her discontent with court life and her aunt. Readers cannot help but to sympathize and feel her pains. While royalty, Sisi comes off as a humble woman of humble origins thrust in a role for which she was unprepared. However, while carefree in her youth, she later becomes vain with her appearance. Also explored in-depth towards the end was Sisi’s relationship with the Hungarian Count Andrássy.
In enjoyed this novel very much. I became immersed in the story and hated when it ended as I felt, while a segment of her life was concluded, the story was not yet finished and that her relationship with the Count was just beginning. Thankfully, I already knew the sequel, Sisi: Empress on Her Own, would be published in 2016 (and I have since read that too; I’ll post a review of it at some future point). Pataki paid close attention to detail, both historically and emotionally. It was easy to feel as though I was there watching the story unfold.
I originally read this when it first came out and just refound the review. I had read a library copy.
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