Allison Pataki has written two breathtakingly beautiful historical novels featuring Empress Elisabeth (known as Sisi) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the 19th century.
The first book, called The Accidental Empress, begins with Sisi as a young girl in Bavaria, riding horses, picking wildflowers in the fields, and sharing every moment with her quiet and dignified elder sister, Helene. The family’s small provincial world tilts on its axis when Helene is summoned to Austria to meet the young Habsburg Emperor, Franz Joseph. Object: matrimony. Nobody is prepared for the romantic sparks that fly when Franz Joseph meets Sisi, the younger sister. Sisi herself is woefully unprepared to enter the Imperial Court in Vienna as the Emperor’s bride-to-be. Sisi’s world changes in a few short months as she marries Franz Joseph and is crowned Empress of Austria-Hungary. Her struggles to find her way amid the complex relationships and rigid rules that govern her new life are the substance of the novel’s plot. This first installment ends on a triumphant note as Sisi plays a diplomatic role in negotiating a compromise with the Hungarians to keep Hungary in the Empire.
The second book, Sisi: Empress on her Own, opens on a lush, romantic scene of Sisi at her country estate in Hungary. In this phase of her life, Sisi travels often to get away from the strict protocol of the Imperial court in Vienna. We see Sisi in Hungary, in England, in Ireland, in Bavaria, as well as with her own family in their different estates in Austria. Sisi’s turbulent relationship with her controlling mother-in-law, the Archduchess, as well as her relationships with her husband, children, sisters, and cousins are a large part of the narrative. Sisi avoids, withdraws, escapes to other countries, and occasionally steps in to try to improve the dynamics within the royal family. There is a secondary, darker narrative that foreshadows the violent fate in store for Empress Elisabeth. The novel ends with the end of her fascinating and troubled life.
Beautiful, and sensual details make this two-book series a delicious read. The contrast between the romantic Elisabeth who craves both freedom and intimacy is an ongoing contrast with the chilly protocol that binds her in her role as Empress. These two novels are a fascinating look at Europe during this time period, featuring not only politics but architecture, music, fashion, and sport. Elisabeth’s story will take you back to the glory days of the Habsburg Empire, and may even inspire you to visit Austria to see the beauty and splendor described in these unforgettable books.