by Allison Pataki
Publisher: Dial Press
Page Count: 464
Release Date: March 8, 2016
Format: ARC Paperback
How got: ARC from LibraryThing giveaway
First attention getter: loved the first book's characterizations
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?
Star Rating - 5
A truly satisfying conclusion to this duology, this book rounds out the story of Sisi and the people in her life with great aplomb. I was immersed into the world and its story from page one and felt like I had never left it, even though there is a year in between the readings. This speaks to the power of the author’s writing and her pure skill.
Maybe it was because so much character establishment happened in book one that not a ton of work had to be done, but the personalities in this second volume were so much brighter and vivid than book one. I found I could empathize and understand every person, no matter whether I liked them or not. Even the stodgy Franz (the one I had a very hard time liking in book one) gained some three dimensional aspects that made him a great personality, enough that during the events at the book’s end tore my heart out along with his.
Now Sisi… Egads, what a woman! Strong willed, intelligent, beautiful, self-centered, dramatic, a bit erratic, eccentric… She shines in this book, larger than life, just like when she truly lived. Pataki does an amazing job in portraying this woman’s personality in all its vivid, flawed glory. I reveled in all of Sisi’s triumphs, cried at her sacrifices, and just generally fell in love with her. She’s the star of the show, her story making her amazing reading.
Pataki also excels at her historical details and scene setting, just like last time. Imperial Vienna, peaceful Hungary, bucolic English countryside, and green, lush Irish estates all make for amazing settings for the characters to play out their stories. This was a big bonus in the first book too, and the author doesn’t fail to deliver on this one.
To me, this was the best read of 2016 so far. It’s rich, expansive, character-driven, and beautiful in its dramatic expanse. I lived and breathe the characters, falling in love even though historically I knew where the story was going. Definitely one for the re-read pile!
Note: Book received for free from the publisher in a LibraryThing giveaway in exchange for an honest review.