Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review: The Accidental Empress


Allison Pataki

The Accidental Empress

By Allison Pataki
Howard Books, February 2015

About the Book

New York Times bestselling author Allison Pataki follows up on her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Traitor’s Wife, with the little-known and tumultuous love story of “Sisi” the Austro-Hungarian Empress and captivating wife of Emperor Franz Joseph.

The year is 1853, and the Habsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia, from Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and ready to marry. Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth, “Sisi,” Duchess of Bavaria, travels to the Habsburg Court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young emperor. But shortly after her arrival at court, Sisi finds herself in an unexpected dilemma: She has inadvertently fallen for and won the heart of her sister’s groom. Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead. Thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor, her people, and of the world.

With Pataki’s rich period detail and cast of complex, bewitching characters, The Accidental Empress offers a captivating glimpse into one of history’s most intriguing royal families, shedding new light on the glittering Habsburg Empire and its most mesmerizing, most beloved “Fairy Queen.”

My Review

If you love historical fiction with a royal focus, this book may prove quite satisfying. I do love historical fiction. And this one does have a royal focus. The Accidental Empress is set in Austria (and Hungary) in the 1850s and 1860s. It tells the story of Empress Elizabeth of Austria and Emperor Franz Joseph I. She is the “accidental” empress because the arranged marriage was originally between Franz and her older sister. She accompanied her sister to court, and Franz fell in love with her and not the sister.

The book captures many events, many emotions, many tensions. It has plenty of drama! For the most part, the book is told from her point of view, and only her point of view. Readers can judge for themselves if her perceptions are fair or not. Plenty of arguments between husband and wife are related. In some cases, it’s easy to see what it was all about. To see her side and to see his side. Yes, the book is from her point of view, but, readers can pick up on why he’s acting and reacting the way he is. Not all the time, not every time, but enough to give the impression that she is far from perfect and not always right.

For example, when she nags him every single time she sees him about how horrible his mother is, readers know he’s not going to like her complaining and whining. Should he try to see it from her perspective, try to put himself in her shoes, to be more understanding and supportive of his wife’s feelings? Probably. But you could see why it would be difficult to enjoy spending time with her. To be fair, he’s not great at fidelity. And the idea that no royal could ever, ever, ever be expected to be faithful—that it was unnatural—doesn’t sit easy. So I could only take my sympathy so far with him.

Actually, did I really like either character? I’m not sure I did. I found the book fascinating however!

Though I tend to think of this division of Simon & Schuster (Howard Books) as being “Christian,” there was nothing distinctively Christian about the book itself. It is historical fiction. It’s based on real people, royal people. But it isn’t your typical Christian book with a Christian message about life and love and family. I would have a difficult time classifying this as a clean read.

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