Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki

I started reading this novel, and I must confess I was a bit confused.  It seemed to start right in the middle of Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary's life.  I quickly realized there is a book before Sisi that begins with Sisi's early life and marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph, and the difficulties she had adjusting to life as an Empress in the stifling Austrian court. I recommend you read  The Accidental Empress before you tackle Sisi so that you may get the complete story of Sisi's incredible life and tragic death.  

With that being said, after a quick history lesson on Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary, I was ready to keep reading, and I was impressed at the research Allison Pataki put into this historical novel.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire of the mid 1800's was vast, and a powerhouse.  Sisi's husband, Franz Joseph, was born and raised to be an Emperor.  His mother, Archduchess Sophie ruled the court, and Sisi always felt like a failure, and was completely demoralized when her first two children, Rudy and Gisela were swiftly taken from her arms after birth and raised away from Sisi, with no input from her at all.  Her third child, Valerie (born many years later) stayed by Sisi's side.  She had grown enough backbone to refuse to send Valerie down the same path as her siblings. 

Sisi was known for her beauty and floor-length hair.  People refer to her as the Princess Diana of her day, and that may be so in that both women felt trapped by their lives, and searched for ways to escape.  For Sisi, she often traveled away from court--usually for weeks at a time.  Hungary was her favorite place, and there she enjoyed the peace of the countryside and the forbidden love she shared with Count Andrassy.  Sisi's husband Franz Joseph loved his wife, but so much of their relationship was damaged by the interference of his mother and the demands of rigid court life. She never felt that Franz was there for her.  What had started out as a marriage with high hopes and love had become distant and cold.  

This novel continues where The Accidental Empress left off in 1868 up through 1898, when Sisi was assassinated on a street in Geneva, Switzerland simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sisi's life really was a soap opera, full of forbidden love, political upheaval, and malicious court gossip. Sisi's frustration at being distant emotionally from her children, and her constant roaming around Europe cast her as a very lonely woman who was never able to be happy.  I really got invested in Sisi's life, and even though I knew it was coming, it was still hard to read about her death.  I'm certainly tempted to read more about Sisi, and if I ever get to Austria, I would love to visit Hofburg Palace, Sisi's home in Vienna.  

Thank you to Penguin/Random House for a review copy of this book.  I never knew anything about Empress Elisabeth, so I am very glad I had this opportunity to read about her life.  This is definitely a must read for fans of historical fiction.  

Rating:  5/6 for a well-researched and detailed novel about Princess Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary.  It was hard to put down!


  1. I began reading your review and wondered why it felt so familiar. I first learned about Empress Elisabeth in the Prologue to Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. In fact, despite starting that tome at least three times I have never gotten past page 20, though I desperately want to read it. You may have given me the key with these two books. Sometimes I need more that a quick history lesson!

    1. I would certainly start with Accidental Empress. I don't think I will go back and read it, but if you're interested in starting at the beginning I would go for it! Of course, with historical fiction you've got to do your research first, so as you start reading you know what really happened and what the author imagined happened. I find it helps me a lot with the story, but if I see the author has so much completely wrong I won't read anymore of their novels. Happy to say this wasn't the case with this novel.