Sisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki
The Dial Press, 2016. Hardcover, 438 pages.
The sequel to The Accidental Empress, Sisi: Empress on Her Own follows Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, through her adult years. The first novel left off as Sisi struck out on her own to raise her youngest child, Valerie, in Hungary away from the Vienna court and that is where this one again picks up. Since the first of the two novels, Sisi has matured and grown stronger. She is more willing to fight for what she wants.
Soon after the novel’s opening, Sisi is forced to return to court after hearing disturbing stories about her son, the Crown Prince Rudolph. She returns to fight to see that he has a more liberal education without the harsh tutor his grandmother picked. And from this point onward, Sisi is determined to let no other rule her life. And she still longs for the man she loved from the first book, Count Andrassy, who is now the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister.
The rest of the novel follows Sisi as she travels across Europe and attends state events in Vienna. One particular highlight of the latter was the coverage of the World’s Fair in Vienna 1873. In this segment, readers understood the pressures of court life as Sisi and her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph constantly hosted visiting heads of state. It is from this event that Sisi’s desire to travel grows, as she spoke with the British delegate about fox hunting and decided to try that. Three summers she went to Britain for the hunting season, where she met and had an affair with Bay Middleton, her hunting pilot. Later travels included visits to her parents, siblings, and cousin Ludwig II, King of Bavaria. Throughout, there is a focus on her horsemanship as she rides extensively in each place she visits.
Travels of the empress are not the only focuses as the book also examines Sisi’s relationships with her family. Though she fought for Rudolph as a child, she witnessed his mental decline as he grew older. Sisi came to peace with her husband, even finding him a female companion she approved of. Her relationship with Valerie grew closer, to the point Sisi dreaded her youngest marrying. Through her relationship with her sister Marie, Queen of the Two Sicilies, readers see the unification of Italy and how it affected the disposed heads of state. And through her cousin Ludwig, readers will see his descent into madness and he builds fairy tale castles and becomes Richard Wagner’s most fanatical patron. Outside of family, readers will also see the strained relationship Sisi and Franz Joseph have with the newly unified Germany, which they perceived as a threat.
Overall, a great read. I enjoyed spending more time with Sisi. Through her depiction in this novel and Pataki’s extensive historical research, one can feel like they are in the middle of all the intrigue of the era. The Habsburgs were often at the forefront of European politics, especially on the continent, so few major events of the late 1800s went unaddressed. Though I knew the ultimate outcome, which was hinted at in mini-previews before each chapter, I still enjoyed the book through by the end I did feel like crying. If you read the novel or the above link, you will understand why.
This review is based on a library copy of the novel.