Book Review Club: Sisi: Empress on her Own #HistoricalFiction

Sisi Empress coverSisi: Empress on her Own
by Allison Pataki
Historical Fiction

This is the second of two books about Empress Elizabeth, wife of Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria-Hungary. Her nickname was Sisi. The first book is The Accidental Empress, and I do recommend reading it first, which I didn’t do.

Sisi picks up when she is 30 and living on her estate in Hungary. She is somewhat estranged from Franz Joseph at this point, and apparently having an affair with Julius Andrassy, a Hungarian count and patriot. Shortly into the book Franz Joseph appoints Andrassy Foreign Secretary in the government, ending the affair.

Sisi was known for her beauty. She was the supermodel of her day (mid-late 19th c.) as she was 5’8″ tall, slender and beautiful, with a mane of brown hair that reached to the floor. It took at least 3 hours for her to be dressed and coiffed every day. She spent some of that time reading and learning languages; she spoke at least five. This is probably the most famous portrait of her.

Winterhalter_Elisabeth_2

Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Courtly Gala Dress with Diamond Stars. Attribution: Franz Xaver Winterhalter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sisi married early, at age 15, and had three children. Her domineering mother-in-law, Duchess Sophie, took the first two children away from her and restricted her time with them. When she became pregnant again, she grabbed the baby and ran off to Hungary, determined to raise this child, at least, on her own.

Schoenbrun Palace

Schoenbrun Palace, Sisi’s summer home in Vienna

The book follows Sisi’s life for the next 30 years, in which she spent more time away from Vienna than not, hence the title Empress on Her Own. Her husband loved her, but he hadn’t been faithful. She was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva in 1896. (Not a spoiler since she was a real person and the first thing we see in the book is the anarchist stalking her.) She was not popular in her time, but was later, after she died. All in all, her life was rather sad.

The book was well-written and interesting, if not gripping. I learned a lot about Austro-Hungarian life and politics. I particularly enjoyed the chapters set during the Vienna World Expo in 1873, and the scenes with mad King Ludwig, Sisi’s cousin, were fascinating.

As always, click on the graphic below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.

What are you reading?

Linda

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@Barrie Summy

Book Review Club: The Moon in the Palace

Moon In the Palace coverThe Moon in the Palace
(The Empress of Bright Moon Duology Book 1)
by Weina Dai Randel

Set in 7th c. China, the book is about an ambitious girl aspiring to power to restore her family’s fortunes and place in society.

When Wu Mei 1s five, a monk comes to visit with her father, the governor of Shanxi Prefecture. Mei is her father’s favorite and he treats her like ta son, allowing her to dress in boy’s clothes. When the monk sees her, he makes a prophecy, not realizing it will come true. He looks in her face and says: “If the child were a girl, with this face… she would eclipse the light of the sun and shine brighter than the moon. She would reign over the kingdom that governs men. She would mother the emperors of the land but also be emperor in her own name. She would dismantle the house of lies but build the temple of the divine. She would dissolve the kingdom of ghosts but found a dynasty of souls. She would be immortal.”

After that, her father starts to groom her for life at the court of Emperor Taizong in Chang’an, present day Xhian. After her father dies, the family loses everything and is forced to live with the profligate son. Whe Mei is eleven, she receives a summons to the court and her adventure begins. She learns to navigate court protocol and also learns how treacherous court intrigue can be. She falls in love and risks death, but survives.

I loved this book. The setting was fascinating, a glimpse into China’s past. Mei was an engaging and admirable protagonist and the secondary characters are well-drawn.

I met the author at the recent Historical Novel Society and had a chance to speak to her briefly. She’s very soft spoken and was really nice to talk to. Someone asked if her book was popular in China and she said it hadn’t even been translated into Chinese. She said it’s not written in a way to please Chinese audiences. They don’t have our addiction to happy (or at least satisfying) endings, plus her main character would be too modern and assertive. For instance, Mei’s father reads The Art of War to her, and she uses Sun Tzu’s wisdom in her rise to power. Chinese readers wouldn’t accept that in this time period.

From the author’s note: The story is based on the one and only female ruler in Chinese history, Wu Zetian, also known as Empress Wu. Most of the male characters in the book are real, some of the female characters are real, but not all.

The author said on Amazon that she spent ten years researching the book and received 82 rejections before Sourcebooks agreed to take a chance on it, and that chance paid off. Here’s the list of accolades the book received, all well-deserved in my view:

  • Winner of RWA’s Rita Award for Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance
  • Nominated for Best Historical Fiction by Goodreads Choice Awards 2016
  • Nominated for Best First Historical by RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Award 2016
  • Recommended by Texas Library Association’s 2017 Lariat List
  • A San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention

What have you been reading this summer?

Linda

As always, click on the graphic below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

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