Tuesday, December 23, 2014

'The Accidental Empress'

It's the Christmas season, and I just bought gifts.  Yeah.  One day, many gifts. I wrapped them when I returned home.  Easy peasy.

After making a salad for our family gathering on Christmas Eve, and a chocolate pie for dessert on Christmas day (don't judge, pumpkin pie lovers), I sat down and finished reading an advance copy of Allison Pataki's new novel, 'The Accidental Empress'.  It was a nice break from mystery novels...not that I'm tired of reading mysteries.  Just a break, people. Just a break.

The main thing I really liked about Pataki's novel is the amount of research she brings to her story.  Of course, it is historical fiction, but reading about Empress Elizabeth made me want to learn more about her life.  And Pataki got it right.  So right.

With any story about royalty, you will find forbidden romance.  Nothing is hidden anymore, now that the public clamors for 'truthiness' (thanks, Stephen Colbert!). Imagine having to marry someone you don't know.  And imagine having to spend the rest of your life tied to that person. What if you don't like him/her?  What if their very existence makes you want to vomit when you're alone (it wouldn't be a good thing to do that around your chamber maids; gossip, you know)?  

That wasn't the case with Elizabeth, Duchess of Bavaria.  

In 1853, when the Habsburgs are Europe's most powerful ruling family, 15-year-old Elizabeth ('Sisi') travels to the Habsburg court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young, handsome Emperor Franz Joseph.  But shortly after they arrive, Elizabeth has fallen in love with him, and he with her.  Franz reneges on his earlier proposal and stakes a claim on Elizabeth.

But Elizabeth doesn't count on being ordered around by her aunt, Franz's mother, Sophie. Trapped at every turn by the commanding Sophie and her spies, Elizabeth upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor and the empire.

This story isn't just a romance, although reading about Franz and Sisi's flowering relationship is interesting to behold.  It's the politics and intrigue that held my attention.  The rich history and attention to detail really kept me turning the pages.

Author Allison Pataki
But what I really loved is that almost all of it is true.  The author's attention to detail (palace life, the clothing, the rooms and the furnishings...and the food!  Oh, the food!), and empathy for Elizabeth truly make this novel flow.

It's heartbreaking, it's uplifting, and yet very depressing. Elizabeth was a very intelligent woman, and if she had had a collaborative relationship with her mother-in-law, history might have been different.  

I hope that Pataki writes a continuation of Elizabeth's story. She doesn't need to fictionalize it, really.  The truth is so much more interesting.

And Pataki brings it to us in a beautifully wrapped package. 

'The Accidental Empress' will be released in February 2015 from Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.  Pre-order from your favorite local bookstore, or put it on your library list.  Book Hog would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book!

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