Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Accidental Empress: A Novel by Allison Pataki

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!

Lady of Asolo by Siobhan Daiko

Lady of Asolo.  Siobhan Daiko. Fragrant Books.  November 2014. 242 pp. paperback and e-book. ISBN #: 9781503109780.

Fern is staying with her Aunt in Asolo, Italy in 1989.  Fern’s a painter and loves walking about the town sketching beautiful or historically interesting scenes.  But something is deeply amiss, as she keeps hearing a strange yet familiar voice calling, “Lorenza!” Add to that she keeps smelling burnt wood and even occasionally seeing the same which appears and then just as mysteriously disappears.  As Fern had just lost her fiancĂ© in terrible accident, this is not helping her to regain composure and peace.

Almost immediately Fern begins to have moments where she is having blacking out spells and during them is living the life of Cecilia, a young lady-in-waiting who serves at the court of Queen Caterina Cornaro in the year 1504 in Venice, Italy.  While there Cecilia falls in love with an artist, Zorzo, with whom she begins a passionate affair.  Back in 1989, Fern receives help from her Aunt’s friend, Luca, who immediately finds Fern fascinating and then more than engaging but Fern is cool to his hints of more than friendship between them. 

Fern begins to slip back and forth in both lives.  The timing of these transitions appears too frequently and frenetically which therefore strains credulity.  Also we see how Cecilia is avoiding the lusty but repulsive advances of a rich suitor, Ludovico.  Living the glorious life of wealth and pleasure can be Cecilia’s destiny if she rejects Zorzo who lives in a world of poverty as a starving but sexy artist.

Their future eventually will collide with that of Fern and Luca.  The reader has no problem with this journey, especially enjoying the beautiful descriptions of the places where Fern and Cecilia reside.  The author creates a sense of vulnerability in Fern where the reader yearns for her healing from the tragedy in her own past.  All in all, In My Lady’s Shadow is a historical romance that comes to a dramatic end with a lot of repetition and going nowhere between the beginning and that perilous finale!