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.”
June 8, 1867
“Empress, we are ready for you.”
She turns, a small nod and a flourish of her hand. “Time to assume the role.” She slips her narrow arms through the sleeves. The silken fabric, expertly stitched and tailored, molds around her curves. My, but she has never quite grown accustomed to how heavy these things are. Heavier, it seems, than her own tired frame.
All around her nervous footmen and chattering attendants fuss, bickering like frantic bees in the hive that encircles their all-important leader.
“Fluff her skirt!”
“Mind the trim!”
“Time to go!”
“Can’t be time already, can it?”
“Ready, Empress Elisabeth?” The imperial hairdresser stands before her, the ancient crown poised between two fingers, its diamonds catching a glint of candlelight. As delicate as the wisps of a spider web. And yet, durable enough to have survived the centuries, to have persisted longer than the royal heads on which it has rested. Heads now embalmed, hairs now gray and fallen out.
“Ready.” She nods, lowering her chin so that the diadem can be nestled into her chestnut curls—curls that have been named the most valuable crown jewels in all of the Habsburg collection. The curls, they say, that won her the emperor’s heart.
The crown in place, she glides forward and glances at herself in the full-length mirror. She does make an arresting vision; even she has to admit it.
The gown is of white and silver brocade, laced with rows of diamonds and stitched to hug her narrow figure. The long cape of white satin drapes effortlessly over her shoulders before tumbling to the ground. But it’s her face that they always want to see, more so than any imperial stitching or ancient tiara. They’ve all heard of her slanting, honey-colored eyes. Her smoothly sculpted cheekbones. Her lips, the lips that the emperor once declared as “fresh as strawberries.” The emperor. Her heart lurches forward. God, but she is tired. Will she have the energy to survive this day?
A knock, and her heart trips once more. She glances up, her eyes darting to the heavy oaken door. Which one of them will it be on the other side? Will it be the emperor? Or will it be . . . him? Her cheeks grow warm at the thought, and she chides herself. Even after everything she has been through, she still reddens like a girl of sixteen at the thought of him, the mention of his name. Her own husband doesn’t pull such a scarlet blush to her cheeks.
The door lumbers open, groaning like a sluggish guard woken from his midnight watch after too much ale. In an instant, she sees him, and he sees her. He takes her in. She can tell from his face that she has succeeded in beating the breath from his gut; he wears the look of a stunned animal.
“Sisi” is all he manages to say. “Sisi.” He throws his arms up, wide, as if to pull her into him. But he checks himself, takes note of the servants bustling about.
“Your Majesty.” He clears his throat. “Are you ready?”
She inhales, considering the question. Is she ready? No. She never really was ready, she supposes. That was the problem, wasn’t it? But she lifts her chin, throwing her shoulders back.
“I am,” she answers, one quick nod. She glides forward. The dress drags—its splendor too heavy for her exhausted body. But she sighs and continues across the room.
She can already hear them on the other side of the walls. Not so much the individual cheers and cries, but a dull, persistent throb. Constant. Like the crush of the sea waves on the earth: unyielding, unceasing.
He offers his arm and she slides her own through it, her soft flesh pressing into his heavily starched uniform. The doors open wider now. She blinks, longing to pull a gloved hand upward. To shield herself, to hide her face from all of those direct, inquisitive eyes. . . . Eyes that will study her and take her in, as if she is theirs for consuming. But she checks her impulse. Stands a bit taller.
And then she hears it. “Sisi!”
A breath inward. A moment to fortify herself as she turns to him. “It is time.” And it was. At last, it was time.
Also from Allison Pataki:
Read more about The Traitor's Wife on GoodReads.
About Allison Pataki:
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 visit www.AllisonPataki.com or on Twitter.
Thanks to Allison Pataki and Simon & Schuster, one lucky winner will receive a $120 gift card to the ebook retailer of their choice (Amazon/B&N/iTunes)! Please enter via the Rafflecopter form. Giveaway is open internationally.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
- Monday, February 23rd - Books and Things - Guest Post
- Tuesday, February 24th - Books Glorious Books - Excerpt
- Wednesday, February 25th - Sara In Bookland - Author Interview
- Thursday, February 26th - Historical Fiction Obsession - Guest Post
- Friday, February 27th - Library of a Book Witch - Author Interview
Check out more at the Tour Page below: