Thank-you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for my advanced reading copy of this novel. For the synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads please click here.
This was a wonderfully written novel that I enjoyed immensely. After reading “The Accidental Empress” I was pleasantly surprised to discover there was a sequel, as I was eager to learn more about Empress “Sisi” of Austria-Hungary.
This novel begins where the last novel left us and therefore I strongly recommend reading them in order. I enjoyed this novel even more than I did the first one as I found it to be more educational about who Sisi was as a person and how she dealt with the issues in her life.
Sisi is a much stronger, independent woman in this novel and I was intrigued to learn how she was able to cope with the rigid structure of being a Hapsburg and all that it entailed. She struck me as a true free spirit–a “Fairy Queen” as she was named by her people–and therefore she ran away from the Hapsburg court as often as she could.
I do not use the term “ran away” lightly. There were many things that I felt Sisi was running away from, to name a few: the slander about her in the press, the tension between her husband and her son, even the prospect of too many Imperial functions would cause her to flee at times. If you read this novel by itself I could see how it may cause you to view Sisi as selfish and irresponsible, however if read after “The Accidental Empress” it becomes evident that Sisi HAS to take a step back from these things for her own well-being of body and mind. This is a woman with a much better handle on herself and her emotions than the Sisi of the first novel. I really enjoyed seeing this change in her and therefore found myself rooted firmly in her camp when it came to the backlash surrounding her urge to flee the court.
Yet this is not to say that I agreed with every decision she made. Her avoidance of her son’s issues in particular was disturbing to me. The author voices this same concern in her author’s note. The author muses upon whether or not the lack of control Sisi had in her children’s upbringing led to this distancing of herself from them later in life. Another thought is that she was reluctant to exert any kind of influence or control in fear of being too much like her mother-in-law Archduchess Sophie, who strove to control the Imperial Family’s every move. It was upsetting to read of the deteriorating relationship between Crown Prince Rudolf and his parents. I couldn’t help but wonder if the fate of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire would have been different if their relationship had not become so strained. I was amazed by some of the events that transpired in the family. As the author states in her author’s note: “one cannot make this stuff up”.
A particularly fascinating figure that appeared in this novel was Sisi’s cousin, King Ludwig II of Bavaria. “Mad King Ludwig” is most famously known for his creation of Neuschwanstein, the extraordinary fairy-tale castle set amongst the mountains of Western Bavaria. Ludwig was an eccentric recluse who became the patron of the composer Richard Wagner. He bankrupted himself through his building work and his patronage of Wagner, causing serious discontentment in the Bavarian government. Although it was mostly through letters written between him and Sisi, the author still managed to create a vivid character in Ludwig that I greatly enjoyed reading about. I adored the descriptions of Neuschwanstein that were shown to us through Sisi’s eyes and I found myself staring at photographs of the castle in wonder. Ludwig’s story is a sad one but his legacy of Neuschwanstein is awe-inspiring all the same.
Overall I really enjoyed this novel and I was able to get a good sense of who Empress Sisi actually was. Her life story is very interesting and there are many things that are curious enough to give me pause for thought. I’ve found myself pondering many “what-ifs” after finishing this novel and this is truly a sign of a good read: one that stays with me for a long time afterwards. I am very glad to have read this pair of absorbing, intriguing and well-written novels.