Sisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki is a historical fiction book focusing entirely on Empress Elisabeth – known as Sisi – who is married to Emperor of Austria-Hungary, Franz Joseph.
Her life as Empress is anything but a life of happiness. Instead, she feels stifled by her duties to not only her empire, but also to her husband and two older children, whose grandmother made it impossible for Sisi to develop any type of meaningful relationship with.
She spends her time in Hungary, instead of the capital of Vienna, doting on her youngest daughter, Valerie, who is the only child she has been allowed to actually raise. Her love for her estate – just outside of Budapest – is paired with an accidental love with Count Andrassy, a Hungarian statesman.
With the death of an important family member, Sisi is called back to the capital. There, she must battle with the public’s opinion of her and try to sway their negative opinion of her, not only for her own sake, but for the sake of the Austria-Hungary and Franz’s rule.
Sisi must decide whether the duty to her empire or the duty to herself is going to take precedent as danger – with many different face – lurks in the shadows.
One of my favorite historical fiction authors is Philipa Gregory, and with Pataki’s novel being compared to Gregory’s, I set the bar pretty high for this book. Needless to say, I was not at all disappointed with it.
In a historical fiction novel there is a certain amount of world building that has to be done, and Pataki embraces this challenge. With varying settings including many areas in Austria-Hungary, the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, the lush shires in England, and a brief stop in Ireland, Pataki gave just the right amount of detail for me to be able to picture these places in my mind’s eye without flooding me with too much description.
Pataki took me on a journey highlighting Sisi’s relationships with various people, and these characters were both fleshed out and interesting. I felt every emotion Sisi did when she did, and I will definitely be reading more of Pataki’s books.
Bethany Kelly is currently getting her MFA at Goddard College and has a BA in English. She is a writer, editor, and stay-at-home mother and wife who spends her spare time (when she has some) reading and cooking.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.