The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki {Historical Fiction Review}

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

Book Review Disclosure

Allison Pataki
Historical Fiction

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. Intrigued by Sisi’s guileless charm and energetic spirit, not to mention her unrivaled beauty, Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead.

Plucked from obscurity and thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi has no idea what struggles and dangers—and temptations—await her. 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, compelling characters, The Accidental Empress offers a captivating glimpse into the bedrooms and staterooms of 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 Thoughts

From the outside most aristocratic lives seem like fairy tales. Large beautiful homes. Stunning clothing and jewelry. Lavish social engagements. Servants to meet your every need. What could possibly be the downside to any of that?

In The Accidental Empress Allison Pataki introduces us to fifteen-year-old Elisabeth as she sets out on a journey that takes her from being the down-to-earth duchess of Bavaria to the very sought after Empress of the Austrian empire. On the surface it seems as if Elisabeth or rather 'Sisi' is the perfect match for Emperor Franz Joseph. From the beginning Franz is smitten with Sisi and against all advice chooses her over her older sister Helene. The two marry in a spectacular ceremony and then they are supposed to spend the rest of their lives living happily ever after like all good fairy tales are written.

Unfortunately this is real life and not the stuff of fantasy. Before long Sisi realizes that the life she thought she would lead is a far cry from what actually transpires. The funny thing is that when you strip away all the glitter her life isn't much different from those of a lower class. She has a meddling mother-in-law. Her husband has a wandering eye. And she is held up to such scrutiny to meet standards and traditions that are next to impossible to achieve. 

I enjoyed this fascinating supposition of this very powerful woman. I cheered for her as she finally hit her stride and realized her power and learned to use it to benefit herself and many others. While I couldn't agree with some of her moral choices I did admire how she rallied under difficult circumstances. In the end it was ironic that it wasn't Sisi who I felt sorry for but rather Franz and his mother. They had within their grasp the ability to lead a very happy and successful life that would benefit others. Instead they made choices that wound up alienating them from the very people they were supposed to care for.

Allison Pataki has once again done a fabulous job of bringing the story of an obscure historical figure to life. I enjoyed her debut novel The Traitor's Wife but I think that this book is even better. Her skill as a storyteller is compelling. She has a special way of making the reader feel as if they have stepped into the tale and are watching the events unfold. I tend to want to skim over drawn out sections of tedious details about style of dress or scenery and settings. But with this story I just seemed to eat it up. I look forward to reading many more books penned by this author.

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Allison Pataki
Photograph © Tricia McCormack

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