SISI: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki, a Book Review



Empress on Her Own


Allison Pataki


Married to Emperor Franz Joseph, Elisabeth—fondly known as Sisi—captures the hearts of her people as their “fairy queen,” but beneath that dazzling persona 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 with temptations, rivals, and cutthroat intrigue. Feeling stifled by strict protocols and a turbulent marriage, Sisi grows restless. A free-spirited wanderer, she finds solace at her estate outside Budapest. There she rides her beloved horses and enjoys visits from the Hungarian statesman Count Andrássy, the man with whom she’s unwittingly fallen in love. But tragic news brings Sisi out of her fragile 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, dedication and defiance, Sisi struggles against 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?

Featuring larger-than-life historic figures such as Bavaria’s “Mad King Ludwig” and the tragic Crown Prince Rudolf, and set against many of Europe’s grandest sites—from Germany’s storied Neuschwanstein Castle to England’s lush shires—Sisi brings to life an extraordinary woman and the romantic, volatile era over which she presided.


This is Allison Pataki’s second offering about “Sisi”, the last Empress of the Austria Hungarian Empire.  This wonderful telling of the second half of the Empress’s life.  Where The Accidental Empress was the telling of a young naive woman thrown into the Viennese Hapsburg Court and her struggle to find her way through the political world in which she had to live.  This, Sisi, is the telling of a woman who has reached her prime, who has shown the world what she is capable of and the slow malignancy that ate away at her family and her desire for happiness.

Allison does far more than just tell a story, she delves dep into the heart of a woman who wanted nothing more than to love and be loved.  To find and have a sense of normalcy in her life, all which were denied to her by her position and the restrictions imposed by her family and politics.  Sisi is a dark and haunting work of a woman running from that which she cannot escape, trying to reach out and acquire that which she can never attain.  Allison told Sisi’s story with dignity and with such clarity and vividness that I found myself weeping with the Empress at her glorious imprisonment.

In truth, Allison revealed the deep loneliness of life at the top of the social ladder.  She bared the souls of the very people that most of the world so wish they could be.  Those who we think have it all – money, power, prestige, jewels, an adoring audience, everything but happiness and love.  How lonely to not hold the love of your husband (until he has lost your ability to love him), or the love of your children because you were never allowed in their presence until it was too late.  Who could she trust in the court, but her few ladies-in-waiting (and could she even then)?

Allison placed the reader into the heart and soul of Sisi, so that we felt her pain.  We felt her loneliness, we felt her longing for love and her self-control of not crossing the line, even though the heart longed to leap over and escape.  Sisi is not a light and easy read.  It is a dark and lonely book that twisted my gut and forced me to set it aside several times to allow my emotions to settle before picking it back up and continuing the story.  Her development of the central characters and the supporting cast was superb.  She made me want to hate Emperor Franz Joseph and later my heart broke for him as he longed for the love of his wife and for her to return home to him.  Even the cast of possible lovers and the webs that she wove with them was so well developed.

Through it all you could see why the world fell in love with Sisi.  You could see why she was considered the most beautiful woman in the world.  But, unlike the world, we were able to see and feel the tragedy of the broken woman behind the beautiful face.  Allison did a fabulous job of telling a difficult story.  Turning a historical story into a fascinating and living historical novel is difficult.  Allison did it with finesse and made Empress Sisi and Emperor Franz Joseph come alive again.  This is a work that will bare reading again to study between the lines, again and again.

Allison Pataki’s gift of storytelling and her ability to make it live in our souls gives this novel a FIVE STAR rating.

View More: THE AUTHOR:

Allison Pataki is the New York Times bestselling author of THE TRAITOR’S WIFE, THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS, and SISI: EMPRESS ON HER OWN. She graduated Cum Laude from Yale University with a major in English and spent several years writing for TV and online news outlets. The daughter of former New York State Governor George E. Pataki, Allison is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, as well as a member of The Historical Novel Society. Allison lives in Chicago with her family. To learn more and connect with Allison visit or on Twitter @AllisonPataki.







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