ARC from the publisher
3.5 out of 5 stars
I already read the Royal Diaries installment on Empress Sisi, so I knew all about her early romance with Franz and how she became the "accidental" empress.
Sadly, the Royal Diaries book ended right when things were starting to get good (as they so often do) and so I was hoping Allison Pataki's book would dive deep into all the post-wedding drama.
Because, oh boy, Sisi's life is PACKED with drama! She had an evil scheming mother-in-law. She dealt with wars, revolts, and a divided empire. Affairs were had, along with grand swoony romances.
Not to mention all of Sisi's issues (think eating disorders and lots of beauty rituals), which I was really hoping to understand WHY she developed as well as all the details (crazy beauty concoctions! elaborate hair styles!).
Oh, and did I mention murder? Suicide? Assassination?
Yeah, Sisi's story is filled with drama.
Unfortunately, Allison Pataki's story is filled with a lot less drama.
Sure, most of these things are addressed (though nothing of the murder, suicide, or assassination), but there was a disappointing amount of glossing over going on.
About a quarter of the book is spent going over Sisi's introduction to Franz and her accidental empressing until it finally culminates in her wedding. Nice, but too drawn out and kinda yawny since I read all that in the Royal Diaries book (which took slightly less page time to go over, but didn't really contain fewer details).
So, not really Allison Pataki's fault that I had read another book on the topic, but it did make the book feel unbalanced when we spent so much time on early fluff and then completely left out the later dramas. Now, if she plans on writing a Part II, then I withdraw my comment about balance. As of now though, Goodreads is showing this as a standalone.
Allison Pataki did really shine in showing the power struggle between Sisi and her mother-in-law. I was so frustrated on Sisi's behalf and utterly devastated alongside Sisi at her husband's response. I was super emotionally invested, even if the emotions were kinda sad and draggy.
As much as I loved the depth of emotion around this, I wish The Accidental Empress had explored the political landscape at the time more. The Austrian Empire suffers a pretty significant blow and I wish that had been explored more. Ditto all the stuff surrounding Hungary, in which real life Sisi played a big role (and not just a romantic one).
I also wanted to delve deeper into Sisi's emotional issues. Although it was mentioned, I felt like Allison Pataki skirted around the issue and, as a result, downplayed the severity of Sisi's illness. I'll toss in the benefit of the doubt, as this may be in part a symptom of a first-person narrative and Sisi herself is unlikely to recognize the extent of the problem. Still, I wanted more.
Instead, the main focus of the story is on Sisi's romances (one of which isn't even 100% confirmed by history as even existing) and that makes this a pretty fluffy book. That's fine, but I was hoping for heavier historical fiction to really get into the politics and the psychological explanations for why Sisi ended up doing what she did.
*Side note, I really did not like the way Franz was portrayed. In regard to his mother, yes, that seemed fine, but in regard to his relationship with Sisi and his mistresses, no this did not ring true at all. I am no expert on them, but from everything I have read, Franz seems like a pretty decent husband who (with the exception of his mother), treated Sisi extremely well.
Allison Pataki's portrayal made him seem like a philandering lech and that didn't sit well with me, especially since it seemed to be a twisting of history solely to justify Sisi's actions, both real and likely fictional. This also seems to be one of the bigger reasons given for Sisi's behavior, which, again, doesn't seem right and as a result glosses over, diminishes, or omits the actual reasons. I guess this could also be chalked up to the first person narrative, and that's fine, but I've seen other authors do a much better job of balancing reality and their first person narrative with all its required biases.
Sisi is a historical figure shrouded in mystery, and I was hoping The Accidental Empress would help bring her from an enigmatic empress to a person I could feel for and understand. That didn't happen. I don't feel like I know her any better than I did prior to reading this book and I don't feel like Allison Pataki's presentation of her (and others) did anything but scratch at the surface of these very complex people.
Still, The Accidental Empress may not have been everything I wanted it to be, but it is a decent book that should appeal to fans of medium historical fiction (somewhere between "lite" historical fiction and tons-of-details "heavy" historical fiction). Though recommended more for readers who want to learn more about historical relationships than historical facts and events.
Readers who like books about Catherine the Great's pre-empress years would probably also like Sisi's story. They could have totally bonded over their mother-in-law battles, though Catherine proved to be more of a fighter in the end.
I would definitely read another book by Allison Pataki, but only if the subject interested me (some authors I love so much I'd read anything they wrote), and sadly I'm less interested in her traitorous Mrs. Benedict Arnold book (told from the perspective of her non-traitorous maid), despite the excellent reviews. If she wrote a Part II about Sisi's life, I would read that as well.
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