This was a complete cover read for me. I would even go as far as to say that the cover for Sisi: Empress on Her Own is one of my favorites from 2016 releases! It was way past time for me to strop drooling over the cover, and actually read it…
Author: Allison Pataki
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House
In this sweeping and powerful novel, New York Times bestselling author Allison Pataki tells the little-known story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary, the Princess Diana of her time. An enthralling work of historical fiction set during the Golden Age of the Habsburg court, Sisi is a gripping page-turner for readers of Philippa Gregory, Paula McLain, and Daisy Goodwin.
Married to Emperor Franz Joseph, Elisabeth – fondly known as Sisi – captures the hearts of her people as their “fairy queen,” but beneath that dazzling perception lives a far more complex figure. In mid-nineteenth-century Vienna, the halls of the Hofburg Palace buzz not only with imperial waltzes and champagne but also with temptations, rivals, and cutthroat intrigue. Sisi grows restless, feeling stifled by strict protocols and a turbulent marriage. A free-spirited wanderer, she finds solace at her estate outside Budapest, where she enjoys visits from the striking Hungarian statesman Count Andrássy, the man with whom she’s unwittingly fallen in love. But tragic news brings Sisi out of seclusion, forcing her to return to her capital and a world of gossip, envy, and sorrow where a dangerous fate lurks in the shadows.
Through love affairs and loss, Sisi struggles against the conflicting desires to keep her family together or to flee amid the collapse of her suffocating marriage and the gathering tumult of the First World War. In an age of crumbling monarchies, Sisi fights to assert her right to the throne beside her husband, to win the love of her people and the world, and to save an empire. But in the end, can she save herself?
I’m going to preface this review with a little disclosure. When I requested Sisi: Empress on Her Own on NetGalley, I didn’t realize that it was actually the SECOND book in a series. I read this one without reading the first book, The Accidental Empress, so this may have impacted my reading experience. Take my thoughts/rating with a grain of salt.
Before reading Sisi: Empress on Her Own, I knew nothing about Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary (Sisi). Apparently, Sisi wed Emperor Franz Joseph I, emperor of Austria, at the age of 16. She was famously known for her beauty, slim figure, and extremely long hair. With her long absences from court and her family, Sisi was a very controversial figure in Austrian history.
Sisi: Empress on Her Own covers the second half of Sisi’s (Empress Elizabeth) life, her life after bearing all her children. You can tell that a substantial amount of research went into this book, which I always appreciate. Judging from my research, Smith does a fairly good job staying true to historical events while putting her own spin on Sisi’s story. I found Sisi’s story to be absolutely fascinating. I guess what they say is true, sometimes history is just as entertaining as fiction. Sisi’s life was filled with great joys, but even greater heartbreak.
What Pataki really does so well here is take a controversial figure in history and tried to shed some light on Sisi’s possible perspectives and motivations in life. I am a big fan of authors that attempt to explore another side to famous people throughout history who are typically cast in negative light.
While I did find Sisi’s life story to be absolutely fascinating, there were some drawbacks to this book. Sisi wasn’t a likeable character in any capacity, at least for me. Despite the author’s attempts to show Sisi’s point of view, I still couldn’t help but cringe at Sisi’s selfishness throughout the novel. I am wondering that had I read the first book, maybe I would be more sympathetic to Sisi… BUT I doubt it. I don’t typically have to like the main character in a story to like the book, but I do have to understand their motivations. Here, I do understand Sisi’s motivations & reasoning behind her decisions, but I just cannot sympathize with those decisions. I found that Sisi consistently put her wants & needs before those of each of her children. I am also not a fan of people who run away from their problems, which is basically what Sisi does the entire novel. There was just nothing redeeming about her.
Another issue I had with this book was that the time jumps throughout the book felt jarring at times. The author attempted to cover decades of Sisi’s life in the matter of 450+ pages, so there were often large time hops from one period of her life to the next. These transitions felt off to me.
I must admit, Sisi’s life makes for good historical fiction, but I wonder if I would have enjoyed this story more from additional perspectives. At the end of the day, Sisi was a very self centered person who put her love for horseback riding ahead of everything else in her life. While I appreciated reading about her passion for horseback riding, it took up too much of the plotline. Since Sisi was too often absent from her family & her life as the Empress, telling this book only from Sisi’s perspective limited the author. Telling this family’s story from multiple perspectives would have served this story better, and given us a more exciting read. For example, I think Emperor Franz‘s perspective and even Franz’s mother, Sophie, could have made for interesting view points. Not only would the author have accomplished showing Sisi’s side of things, but we would have seen more about the other family members & the drama sounding them as well. I definitely wanted to see more about Sisi & Franz’s son, Rudolf.
Overall Sisi: Empress on her Own is a book about a fascinating family in Austrian/Hungarian history. Pataki’s writing & historical accuracy were well done, and she had a good baseline for a great story here. Unfortunately Sisi proved to be a unlikeable main character and I could not overcome my aversion towards her. I also feel like this story would have worked better told in multiple perspectives.
ALLISON PATAKI is the New York Times bestselling author of THE TRAITOR’S WIFE, THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS, SISI: EMPRESS ON HER OWN and WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS. Allison’s novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
A former news writer and producer, Allison has written for The New York Times, ABC News, The Huffington Post, USA Today, Fox News and other outlets. She has appeared on The TODAY Show, Fox & Friends, Good Day New York, Good Day Chicago and MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Allison graduated Cum Laude from Yale University with a major in English and spent several years in journalism before switching to fiction writing. A member of The Historical Novel Society, Allison lives in New York with her husband and daughter.