Friday, July 10, 2015

Book Review: The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
Publication date: 02/17/2015
Format: Hardcover 512pp

Synopsis (From the Publisher):
"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 Hapsburg Empire and its most mesmerizing, most beloved “Fairy Queen.” "

My Review:

Empress Elisabeth "Sisi" of  theAustro-Hungarian Empire captivated the courts of Europe during her lifetime, and now she is entrancing an audience once again with her magnificent portrayal in Allison Pataki's novel, The Accidental Empress.

There is no doubt that extensive research went into the making of this novel. One of the most enchanting elements is the attention to setting details. Pataki takes it a leap beyond merely describing the setting by focusing on minute details that would only be noticed by someone who is there in person. Take for instance the wedding ceremony between Sisi and Emperor Franz in which the descriptions reflect how Sisi might have taken in the momentous moment as it transpired. First attention is drawn to the thousands of candles illuminating the entire cathedral, followed by the raising of eyes toward the majestic intricacies of the cathedral itself as she passes under arches, and concluding with the focus returning to the goal of the moment, and Sisi's life, as she walks toward Emperor Franz awaiting her at the end of the expansive isle. Such a deliciously vivid scene brings the reader directly into the moment, and it is at this time the lasting connection between historical character and present reader is formed.

The story of Sis's rise to power and her transformation from an innocent girl of 15 to a woman quite alone in a ruthless court is spellbinding to say the least. Over the first three-fourths of the novel the reader is with Sisi for every step of her journey, all the while wanting to be her voice when she has none, and hoping her fortune will change if the pages are turned quickly enough. Considering these desires the splendid writing brings about, it is underwhelming when the last quarter of the book glosses over the four years in which Sisi becomes the creator of her own future and happiness. In one chapter Sisi is advised to leave for her health, and in the very next chapter four years have passed and Sisi returns as a completely different woman; She has vastly different fashion preferences, conduct, and personality than prior to her departure. Although this new persona is what the reader might be hoping for, it would be nice to see the transformation take place in some sense, not merely mentioned as a memory. The result of this time-lapse is an unfortunate sever between the reader and the main character; Sisi becomes an elusive figure, and the reader is quickly pulled out of the once immersive text. Perhaps this is so the reader will be on the same level as the rest of the courtiers who wished to obtain Sisi but failed to reach her inner-self, but nonetheless it is a disappointment not to have more depth in this area.

This is Allison Pataki's second novel, her first being The Traitor's Wife, and it is apparent that her talent for creating engaging and exquisite historical fiction is here to stay. The Accidental Empress is definitely recommended to all historical fiction enthusiasts, especially for those who love attention to detail and have an appreciation for architecture. If all the aforementioned delectable details are not motivating enough to pick up a copy of The Accidental Empress, do note that there is currently a second book on Sisi in the works! More to come on this exciting news soon.

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