The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki / My rating: ★★★☆☆
One sentence summary: Sisi, Duchess of Bavaria, accompanies her sister to meet her fiancé, the Emperor of Austria, and ends up becoming the empress herself.
“You have ruined me.” It was a gentle whisper, his exhale almost louder than his words. But she liked it less the second time she heard it. Why was it ruination? Why couldn’t it be salvation?
Genre: Historical fiction
Plot: Predictable, but enjoyable. However, predictability does tend to come with a retelling of someone’s life. Sisi is based on the actual Empress Elisabeth of Austria who married Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1854, and is a fascinating historical character on her own (I suggest giving her Wikipedia page a read). The plot follows her life from boisterous teenager to blunted empress. The story is interesting enough, and it never bored me, but I was always waiting for the twist in the story, a heightened sense of action, which never came. However, after researching the actual life of Empress Elisabeth, I did appreciate this interpretation of her early life and the liberties the author took in making it fiction.
Characters: Sisi is likeable, but a predictable “naïve girl swept up in fantasies of adventure and grandeur only to get hit with (royal) life’s harsh reality.” However, I did enjoy the depth that Pataki brought to her character later in the book, and the interpretations she made that built on real-life Sisi. Emperor Franz Joseph I starts out handsome and exciting, but I never found him particularly interesting. His mother, Sophie, and the villain of Sisi’s story, is terrible and vindictive and infuriating. My favorite character was Andrassy, who could, perhaps, be interpreted as the “twist” in the story.
Writing: Pataki’s descriptions of Austria and Hungary made me want to book a plane flight to Europe. Her strengths are definitely in descriptive writing; the prose felt very tangible, full of dark hues and soft flower petals and glittering fireflies. Sisi’s story would have been severely lacking had it been told in a plainer style of writing.
Was I satisfied? The Accidental Empress was enjoyable, but leads into a sequel that I don’t feel enough interest to read. My main dissatisfaction with the book was its predictability, which, to be fair, can come with the retelling of a real-life figure. It was a solid, enjoyable book, but it didn’t leave me wanting more.