The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki: A Book Review

The Accidental Empress
Author: Allison Pataki
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Howard Books
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 512
Source:This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: 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: The Accidental Empress chronicles the life of Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, from the time she first travels to the Habsburg court to her coronation as Queen of Hungary. Elizabeth was never meant to be queen. It was her sister, Helene, who was first betrothed to the Emperor Franz Joseph.  However, when Helene, Elizabeth, and their mother, travel to the Habsburg court to meet the emperor for the first time, Elizabeth’s beauty captured the attention of the Austrian court and the attention of the Austrian emperor. Franz Joseph immediately falls in love with her and decides to make her his wife instead.

     This story is essentially a fairy-tale gone wrong. The story has a tragic tone. For when Elizabeth and Franz Joseph first meet, they seem to have a fairy-tale romance. They seem to have a lot in common. They both are educated, have ambitious mothers, and a love for horseback riding. The young couple were happy and had a lot of hope of happiness in the future. However, happily ever-after was not meant to be, for there were three people in the marriage. Sophie, Franz Joseph’s mother, was overbearing and controlling. She felt that Elizabeth was not fit for the role of queen. She had too much power, and was not willing to let Elizabeth take any. She took Elizabeth’s children away from her, so they would never really get to know their mother. Because of Sophie’s dominance within her marriage and her life, Elizabeth feels alone and powerless. Franz Joseph also neglects Elizabeth as he has to focus on the state affairs, politics, and war within his empire. Therefore, Elizabeth desires to leave the pressure of the royal court, and to find happiness.

     This story made me feel sorry for Empress Elizabeth. She was definitely not prepared to be queen. She was so feisty and free-spirited that it was hard for her to be contained to the oppressive Austrian court. Her personality did not fit the role she was meant to play for she desired freedom. However she chose to be queen because she truly loved Franz Joseph and wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, but love proved not to be enough. Elizabeth does mature and her feistiness seems to die over time as she becomes depressed due to the weight of the obstacles that she cannot fix. Eventually she finds it, but at what cost?

     Overall, this is about a woman who is searching for a home and a place of belonging. This story has the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy. The atmosphere is sad. This story sort of reminds me of Marie Antoinette’s early years when she first arrived at court. It also reminded me of Evita. Indeed, as I read the part of Elizabeth’s first week of marriage to Franz Joseph, I could just imagine Che in the background, as the newly wedded couple are dancing, singing “High Flying, Adored” to Elizabeth as he warns her that being queen isn’t all it's cracked up to be. This novel is very well-written, and it is meticulously researched. The characters were complex. I also liked the setting of the facade of the glittering court. This novel is full of political intrigue, betrayal,  drama, and scandal. The Accidental Empress reads like a soap opera for there is a lot of fighting between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law as they fight for power and Franz Joseph’s attention, backstabbing, and love triangles. After reading this book, it seems like there is going to be a sequel to this novel, and I will definitely read it. The Accidental Empress is a feast for lovers of historical fiction and is perfect for fans of C.W. Gortner, Juliet Grey, Michelle Moran, and Philippa Gregory.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the official book trailer for The Accidental Empress:

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