Friday, February 20, 2015

The Accidental Empress

The Accidental Empress

Allison Pataki

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. Intrigued by Sisi’s guileless charm and energetic spirit, not to mention her unrivaled beauty, Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead.
Plucked from obscurity and thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi has no idea what struggles and dangers—and temptations—await her. 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, compelling characters, The Accidental Empress offers a captivating glimpse into the bedrooms and staterooms of one of history’s most intriguing royal families, shedding new light on the glittering Habsburg Empire and its most mesmerizing, most beloved “Fairy Queen.”
Allison on the Today Show
One of the true joys of writing reviews about books you love, is being able to read reviews about books some of your favorite authors love.  Recently I have come across several outstanding works because someone has shared a beautiful review of a novel that has affected them.  Jan Moran, recently published a fabulous review of The Accidental Empress  by Allison Pataki,
Jan and I already share a love of history and the love of strong women in history.  After reading her wonderful five star blog about the novel and about the history of Empress Sisi of Austria, I knew this was one story that I would have to read. 
Though I have never had the personal opportunity to travel to the Alps and experience the wonders of Austria and Hungary, I have long been a student of the many musicians and historical characters who populated that region and era.  Through the magic of Allison’s pen and the diligence of her research, I found myself transported by in time.  It was here in the land of the Habsburgs, Mozart, Strauss, Lizst and many other great romantic giants that populated an era of opulence and drama that I watched a drama unfold.   
With each turn of the page, you felt as if you were walking the very halls of the great palaces with “Sisi” and “Franz”.  Suddenly history was no longer those dry facts in that 10th grade history book.  It was living and breathing on the pages beneath your fingers as you witnessed the heartbreak and longing behind the closed doors of the private apartments of the Emperor and Empress.  I loved that Allison utilized the private diaries and took quotes from those diaries and wrote them into the dialogue, so that we actually hear the voice and soul of history.  This alone added such depth to the story.  There was no artifice, this was real. 
The novel was a voice from the past.  A voice of loneliness, a voice of strength even in the face of isolation.  It was the voice of a woman who found strength when she felt she had been totally abandoned.  Her husband had turned to others (his domineering mother, other women who shared his comforts, the men of his council who demanded his focus, the people his perfection), he had nothing left for her, but still said he loved her. What an empty shell of love he had to offer.  Sisi’s mother-in-law was a tyrant.  Her word reigned supreme, even her son bowed to her iron will, isolating Sisi more and more with time, even from her own young children.  Knowing that each of the characters truly felt the heart ache, and struggled with the day-to-day drama underneath the great beauty and pomp that weighted them down on a daily basis.  Once again we were reminded of the fragility of the heart, no matter the loftiness of the status or the bulging wallet that propped up their oppulent lifestyle. 
Despite the inner politics of the court, the people of both Austria and Hungary fell in love with the beautiful Elisabeth “Sisi” Empress of Austria Hungary.  A Vanity Fair article compared the popularity and life of Empress Sisi to Princess Diana.

The only circumstance that would have made this a more enjoyable read for this humble reviewer, would have been if I could have been reclining on a ridge above Vienna, overlooking the valley and its’ river below, so I could absorb the beauty that lay on the pages before me. 

This book is a definite FIVE STAR read.  I look forward to reading additional works by Allison Pataki.

A copy of The Accidental Empress was provided by Net Galley for me to read for this review.

About the Author:
I love books. I love reading them, I love discussing them, I love writing them. I love immersing myself into a great story and having the opportunity to see a new world through a fresh set of eyes. My 99-year-old grandmother once told me: “As long as I have a good book, I will never be lonely.” I feel the same way.
I guess I should have known from the beginning that I wanted to be a writer. I had the great fortune of growing up in upstate New York, in the Hudson River Valley. As the third of four kids, I would often wander off into the woods behind my backyard and spend hours, alone, totally absorbed in my own imaginings. I’d create characters and scenes and lots of interpersonal drama. I still remember many of the characters and storylines I first imagined at around age nine. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I loved staging plays with my siblings and cousins. I recall the difficulty of trying to get my 7-year-old cousins to remember their lines from Romeo and Juliet.
At Yale I majored in English and I could not believe my good luck – suddenly I was able to spend hours doing nothing but reading, writing, and talking about books. And I got to pretend that it was work! After college, hoping to blend my love for English and History, I moved to New York City and pursued a career in journalism. Although I enjoyed so much of the work I was doing, I was sort of a misfit in the industry. I did want to study the major events unfolding in our world, and the way in which individuals reacted to and shaped these events – but the panic-inducing deadlines and the rapid-fire pace of the 24-hour news cycle were not for me.
smoothly weaves intrigue and
So, in my free time, I began to write fiction. It started out as a post-workday release, a way to unwind after the hectic newsroom. Before long, I found myself completely consumed with this new hobby. Suddenly, I was rushing home from work to grab my laptop and get to writing. I’d find myself surprised on the subway, at the grocery store, out for dinner, with some new idea for some scene or character or a piece of dialogue, and I’d run back to my apartment, worried that I might lose the idea before I could get it down on paper.

Energized and encouraged by this early part of the process, I kept going. Writing became, for me, a guilty pleasure. It was an indulgence for weeknights and weekends. It was the fun I got to have after work. Four years and three completed novels later, I realized that perhaps I was in the wrong line of work. Perhaps writing novels, even though it seemed too fun to actually bework, could in fact be my future. I was so fortunate to meet my agent at Dupree Miller and Associates and by the fall of 2012, we had signed a deal to publish my first historical fiction novel, The Traitor’s Wife, with Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster.

This was such a fun project for so many reasons, but particularly because of how close to home (quite literally) the setting was. Like The Traitor’s Wife, my next project, The Accidental Empress, will be set in a rich and captivating time period, but told from a fresh perspective. My protagonist, Sisi (also known as the Empress Elisabeth of Austria), was a woman who had a front row seat to history, though her story remains largely untold. I hope you’ll have as much fun reading my books as I have writing them.