by Alison Pataki
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New York Times bestselling author Allison Pataki follows up on her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Traitor’s Wife, with the little-known and tumultuous love story of “Sisi,” the Austro-Hungarian Empress and captivating wife of Emperor Franz Joseph.
The year is 1853, and the Habsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia, from Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and ready to marry.
Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth, “Sisi,” Duchess of Bavaria, travels to the Habsburg court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young emperor. But shortly after her arrival at court, Sisi finds herself in an unexpected dilemma: she has inadvertently fallen for and won the heart of her sister’s groom. Intrigued by Sisi’s guileless charm and energetic spirit, not to mention her unrivaled beauty, Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead.
Plucked from obscurity and thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi has no idea what struggles and dangers—and temptations—await her. Sisi upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor, her people, and of the world.
With Pataki’s rich period detail and cast of complex, compelling characters, The Accidental Empress offers a captivating glimpse into the bedrooms and staterooms of one of history’s most intriguing royal families, shedding new light on the glittering Habsburg Empire and its most mesmerizing, most beloved “Fairy Queen.”a Rafflecopter giveaway
Also by Alison Pataki..
• Your new novel, The Accidental Empress, focuses on of the history of one of the most intriguing royal families; is there a reason why you decided to choose the Habsburgs? Is there something in particular that inspired you?
I would agree with you, they certainly are one of history’s most intriguing families! And yet, the American audience knows very little about Sisi and the Habsburgs. Hopefully The Accidental Empress will change that!
I came across the story of Sisi and was inspired to write her story as a result of a very personal journey—and I mean that quite literally. Years ago, I was traveling through Austria and Hungary and the Czech Republic with my family. I am Hungarian-American by descent; Pataki is an odd-sounding and, yes, Hungarian last name. The purpose of the family trip was to visit the places from where our relatives had emigrated, almost a century earlier. This took us, then, to the lands of the former Habsburg Empire—the former realm once labeled on maps as Austria-Hungary.
While on this trip, I kept seeing beautiful images of this same young woman. She had this quizzical smile, this rich chestnut hair curled in these elaborate hairdos. I saw her face at every gift shop, museum, even in restaurants and hotels.
I asked someone who she was and the response was that she was “Sisi,” the most beloved of all Habsburg Empresses. I heard just a bit about Sisi’s epic and tragic life—about the legends that she grew her hair to the floor, that she was considered the most beautiful woman in the world, that every other foreign ruler at the time was in love with her.
I read about how Sisi didn’t mean to seduce her sister’s fiancé the emperor, but did, at the age of 15. Just enough to whet my appetite! I went home and dug in, reading everything I could about Sisi’s story; what I found astounded me. Hers is a story of love triangles, love, lust, betrayal, and so much more. It’s an incredibly human story, told against a glittering and beautiful—yet dangerous and duplicitous—backdrop of the Habsburg Court.
• The so called "princess Sisi" is one of the most popular feminine characters of the nineteenth century, and has been the subject of many historical novels. Are there any particular aspects of her character that you decided to focus on?
Sisi has been the subject of many European adaptations, but almost nothing exists about her for the American audience. She remains hidden in history, not at all well-known, even though she is a leading lady with such a fascinating and worthy story. So much historical fiction lately has been devoted to Anne Boleyn and the British, or Marie Antoinette and the French, or Catherine the Great and the Russians, or the Italians families like the Medici and the Borgias. Sisi is the most fascinating, most significant
heroine of them all, and yet her story remains less well-known. I can’t wait to shine the spotlight on her.
Empress Elisabeth, or Sisi, was and continues to be an enchanting, complex, modern, beautiful, and tragic leading lady. She was Europe’s last great Empress, as it was her family that declared war and began World War I. She was known as the “most beautiful woman in the world,” but it was her wit and intelligence and charisma that made her a legend in her own time.
And yet, somehow, Sisi has become a footnote in modern history; she’s a member of a family that we briefly learn about in high school history, and that’s it. It is so interesting to me how many women—women who accomplished huge things—have slipped through the cracks of history with their stories going largely untold.
I want people to read the story of Sisi so that they can empathize with the great things she did and tried to do. So that they can be transported to the beautiful and romantic world of the imperial Habsburg Court, filled with Walt Disney-esque castles and grand ballrooms and violin waltzes. So that they can be drawn into the love triangle in which she found herself entangled. So that they can empathize with the incredibly moving and relevant difficulties Sisi weathered, not only as a Habsburg empress, but as a wife, a mother, and an individual seeking her own purpose in a treacherous court and a shifting world. So that they can be inspired in their own lives to learn more about history in a fun, entertaining and accessible way.
• If you should think about a movie adaptation of your book, is there someone you would like to play the beautiful Elisabeth?
What a fun question to think about! I’d be fibbing if I said I haven’t spent time mulling over this exact question before. Who would play Sisi on screen? It would have to be an actress with an incredible on-screen presence and strength. It would be so much more than just the ingénue role—Sisi is the leading lady. I like Alicia Vikander from Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair. I also like Rebecca Ferguson, who was in The White Queen. I also like Lily Collins and Felicity Jones. Or perhaps someone with the stage presence of a Keira Knightley.
• Any other books in the works? Goals for the future?
Absolutely, there will be many more books, but my goal for right now is to spread the enchanting story of Sisi and Franz Joseph to as many readers as possible! I want readers to feel like they’ve been immersed into the glamorous and intriguing world of the Habsburg Court.
Allison Pataki is the author of the New York Times bestselling historical novel, The Traitor's Wife. 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 was inspired to write her second novel, The Accidental Empress, by her family’s deep roots in the former Habsburg empire of Austria-Hungary. Allison is the co-founder of the nonprofit organization, ReConnect Hungary. Allison is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and FoxNews.com, as well as a member of The Historical Novel Society. Allison lives in Chicago with her husband. To learn more and connect with Allison visitwww.AllisonPataki.com or on Twitter.