Allison Pataki has stayed true – for the most part – to historical fact (she explains her modest deviations in the book’s afterword) and this Empress did have a life full of drama and disappointment.
Elizabeth is just 15 when she comes from Bavaria to accompany her older sister to Vienna, to meet Helene’s future husband, Emperor Franz Joseph. How Elizabeth becomes Franz Joseph’s wife instead is a delightful part of the story. Wide-eyed, naive, and expecting to enjoy the love of her life, Elizabeth instead finds restrictions, tensions (especially with her mother-in-law), and endless court protocol. This reality sets the true foundation of her marriage. The book then tells the story of how she comes to face that reality, the compromises she is willing to make, and the ways in which she achieves enough independence to eventually find some happiness.
Pataki does a wonderful job proposing possible experiences and motivations that lead Elizabeth to become the woman she becomes. It’s a very interesting read and a great setup to the sequel, which I also recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about one of the most fascinating women of 19th century Europe.
Read my review of Sisi – Novel 2 in the series.