Accidentally reading Accidental Empress : A Book Review

Estimated Reading Time:

Book: Accidental Empress
Author: Allison Pataki
Genre: Historical Fiction
RumiRating: 3/5

Remember when I said I was reading a book about Sisi the Empress of Austria and that a book review was coming up? Well, that’s still coming. #patienceisavirtue
This is a different book review on a different book based on the same Sisi by the same author. #huh?
Apparently Ms. Pataki decided to write two books about Sisi, one covering her life in the early to mid-years of her marriage and the second book, the one I thought I was reading, covers the latter half of her life and marriage. This isn’t noted anywhere by the way, I came about this information through my serious powers of deduction and my even more impressive skills of reading the wrong books this year.

But first. 
Press play. 

Now keep reading. 

I started reading Sisi which is also by Pataki, but couldn’t help thinking through all 10 pages that it would have been nice if the author had started telling the story from a little earlier on in Sisi’s life. The main reason I was attracted to her story is how she became empress and her love story with the emperor. This book starts after the love has worn off and they have already started living separate lives. #buzzkill
I guess it soured my taste for the novel because I stopped reading it compulsively and found my attention diverted to other novels.

But then.

I was cleaning my bedside table – Habibi said he saw something move in the mess of stuff I had on there -lies, all lies – when I came across Accidental Empress. At first I thought I had gotten hoodwinked yet again and bought the same book with a different title – again. I was about to swear off buying any books for a month until I got my act together but something made me open the book to double check. Lo and behold it was completely different book! Score! I ended up reading it on the plane from cover to cover while I flew from country to country. #pulitzer?

Remember when I said I love to get mad at a book?  I take it back. I take it all back. Ms. Pataki pushed my impotent rage to the limit with this book, making me clench my fingers into a ball, ruining  pages of the book at times. Sacrilege I know.  There were times I wanted to slam the book shut and walk away from it or better yet, hurl it across the room. I screamed at Sisi many a times, wanting her to grow some balls and take control of her life. I think I spent half the book fuming and raging at her, her mother in law and the Emperor in turn. I hit a level of helplessness that started to affect me mentally long after I finished reading the book. Now whether this is due to the author and level of skill at inducing such impotent rage, or due to my projection of  personal feelings onto the novel;  I would have continued to be frustrated if I hadn’t read the Q and A section at the back. I’m glad I did.

Q: Seeing all of these conflicts that Sisi faced, we can’t help but ask: Why doesn’t Sisi stand up for herself more?
A: time and again we are rooting for Sisi and we want to see her stand up for herself. And she does try, throughout. But as twenty-first century readers, we must resist the temptation to look at Sisi through our modern lens. 

….. but sisi’s was a gradual process of self-realization over many difficult years. It would be anachronistic to expect sisi, a 16-year-old bride with almost no formal education and no idea of what marriage and court life entailed, to adapt effortlessly to her very demanding new role.

After I read that answer, my anger dissipated as it struck me that if I had married an emperor when I was 16, maybe I would have fared worse than she did seeing that she literally came from a provincial background and was thrust onto one of the biggest ‘stages’ in Europe.

 I would like to disagree with the statement that the author makes later on in the answer to the same question that‘Sisi was independent and romantic and sensitive and free spirited. Besides her initial immaturity and inadequate preparation, Sisi appeared also to have had precisely the wrong temperament for the job she landed. In that way, archduchess Sophie was, oddly enough, correct.’

I think with the proper guidance and support, Sisi would have blossomed into a magnificent ruler with the exact same qualities that are noted as her weaknesses being turned to her advantage and setting her apart from other rulers. 

As a novel, the author does a good job in capturing and holding the readers attention for the entirety of the novel. I think Ms. Pataki did a brilliant job in the beginning of the novel, during the courtship and eventual wedding of the characters. She maintained a stoically neutral ground, leaving us with no choice but to understand all three points of views - the Emperor's, Sisi's and her sister's. We weren't allowed or persuaded to take a side and 'villainify' another- an extremely hard task to do when you are writing about something as delicate as love and marriage; in fact we are forced to be sympathetic to all 3 characters and their plights. 

If I had reservations on the book it would be that although the book is written as historical fiction, to me it read more like a biography - hear me out - in the sense that although I could empathize with the characters and I was engaged while reading the book, I wasn't transported to the era or into their lives in a way that other historical fiction novels have in the past. I was acutely aware of the fact that I was reading the novel while sitting in a plane in modern day times. 
Other than that, I enjoyed reading the novel and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of historical fiction based on true lives and characters like this one, but having said that, I'm not too sure if I will read Sisi, the follow up to this book which to me is a pretty good indication of things. 

Favorite Line  a quote from Goethe:  A person hears only what they understand
Favorite Scene – When Sisi first lays eyes on Franz without knowing it is him. That whole scene of shy looks and covert glances was really cute.
Favorite Character – no one truly stole my heart but if I had to pick one it would be the Archduchess Sophie for skillfully playing the passive aggressive meddling mother in law


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