The Accidental Empress: A Novel. Allison Pataki. Howard Books. February 2015. 512 pp. hb. ISBN#: 9781476790220.
Elizabeth or “Sisi” is the 15 year-old Dutchess of Bavaria who is about to travel to Germany with her sister, Helene who is betrothed to marry the Emperor Franz Josef who is the ruler of Austria, Russia, Germany and Italy. One huge problem follows: the Emperor is controlled by his mother, who is the sister of Sisi and Helene’s mother. The second is that Sisi falls in love with Franz and he with her. Helene, on the other hand, is timid to the point of rudeness and has no wish to marry the Emperor. We learn that eventually after an interminable amount of time full of Helene’s failures that Franz insists he marry the younger sister. It’s the first time the Emperor bucks his mother’s will and so begins Sisi’s journey into the world of Empress, a role for which she’s little equipped in spite of her aristocratic background.
The reader expects to read like a fairy tale come true but such is not to be the case. Instead we find Sisi and Franz happy only in their marital bed, but the rest of Sisi’s life is full of court protocol and control by her mother-in-law, Sophie. Sisi knows little of Franz’s rule or the thorny issues he faces with wars, threat of wars, rebellions, financial problems etc.
One issue, however, engages Sisi’s interest and it is that one that will determine the course of her future happiness after Franz realizes she is more capable than he initially realized. That is the rebellion in Hungary and their desire for independence from Germany and Franz’s control. The latter part of this novel moves out of the family debacle and control issues focus to begin the part of Sisi’s life that earned her the fame that she richly deserved and which she holds to this day.
The Accidental Empress: A Novel is great reading about courtly life from 1853 forward and about the internal and external, complex crises that occur out of the public eye but which hold political significance for all whom royalty ruled. Loved this novel and highly recommend it as notable historical fiction!
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