Sisi : Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki

Most readers have probably never heard of Elisabeth, who married Emperor Franz Josephsisi of Austria in 1854.  I enjoy reading historical fiction about royalty and was delighted to discover a complex, fascinating character who was completely new to me.  Her story, according to the author, is “a fairy tale meets a Shakespearean tragedy meets a family soap opera meets an international saga.”  Elisabeth, known to her subjects as Sisi, was sixteen years old at the time of her arranged marriage.  Pataki’s novel The Accidental Empress tells the story of her earlier married life.  This novel that I read, Sisi, begins in 1868.  Disillusioned with her husband and with a life where protocol rules every move she makes, her controlling mother-in-law keeps her away from her children, and the press constantly criticizes her, she often leaves Vienna for long trips, accompanied by her fourth and last child, Valerie, and her attendants.  Away from the stifling court life, she enjoys long, hard horseback rides, as well as the freedom to spend time with her little girl.  She also finds men who are more suited to her than Franz Joseph is.

Pataki gives the reader a glimpse of Europe before World War I, in the era when Strauss composed his waltzes and Wagner his operas.  Sisi’s cousin, the mad king Ludwig of Bavaria, is a character in the novel, seen in some of its most dramatic scenes.  While the novel very briefly covers politics, there isn’t enough political history to become hard to understand – or boring.

While most readers probably will want to start by reading The Accidental Empress, I only knew about that novel after completing Sisi.  This book completely stands on its own.

Pataki, whose ancestors lived in Austria-Hungary, is a bestselling author.  She did a great deal of research, relies heavily on historical facts, and says that you can’t “make this stuff up.”

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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