When her older sister, Hélène, becomes engaged to Emperor Franz Joseph, Elizabeth travels with her to Vienna to support her timid sibling. However, protocol is turned on its head when the monarch falls in love with Elizabeth instead. The sister is relieved, but will Elizabeth return his affection? More importantly, Will she survive the political upheaval and the insidious intrigue that dominates the Imperial Court?
To the author’s credit, the life at court for a Hapsburg King and Queen has been well-researched in The Accidental Empress. The attention to detail as far as wardrobe, custom, and protocol allows readers to immerse themselves in royal life as well as the setting in which the novel is placed. The geo-political events surrounding the story also give the novel a sense of authenticity and intrigue.
The narration and dialogue in The Accidental Empress are inconsistent. There are times which the prose and dialogue are exquisite, expressed in breath-taking detail, full of color and variety. Nevertheless, there are pages upon pages of description are tiring, and the dialogue switches from language used in 1850’s Europe to modern-day vernacular and therefore distracts from the story. Because of the inconsistent voice, the authenticity and uniqueness of each character is called into question.
The Accidental Empress is told through Elizabeth’s point of view. Because of the trials she faces at court, the reader cannot help but be sympathetic. She has enough weaknesses as to be realistic and believable, but is frustratingly weak. In addition, there are times when the characters inexplicably switch points of view, which is understandably confusing to the reader.
The way the novel is structured gives it a literary feel. The attention to detail is the greatest strength. However, the pace of the novel suffers because so many nonessential elements are over explained. The finer points of court etiquette lend to the richness of historical background, but the excessive detail makes for slow plotlines. For as long as The Accidental Empress is, it has a meandering climax with an abrupt ending which only leads to more questions.
The conflict in The Accidental Empress is one of the stronger aspects of the novel and makes the reader wish there were more of it. The political intrigues and struggle for power within the royal court are fascinating, but the geo-political clashes are not sufficiently explained. A large portion of the plot centers around the love story of the Emperor and Empress and it is effectively communicated throughout the novel. The romance ranges from sweet and sensual, to that of a soap opera with no satisfactory ending.
The Accidental Empress does not have a deep spiritual message. Although the characters attend church, the author does not seem to relay any religious truth to the audience. The target audience is women, but they should be aware that there are scenes that, although may not be inappropriate, depict mature situations. There is also some dialogue in the beginning which is more suitable for Shakespeare’s audience than Christian readers.
Apart from weaknesses in structure, form, and dialogue, the deliberate misrepresentation of facts is the greatest objection to this novel. History is full of interesting stories as The Accidental Empress can attest. Readers not familiar with a particular period of time or people who played an important role in the past may choose to familiarize themselves through the effective vehicle of a story. Historical Fiction informs as well as entertains with the logical expectation that the author has some license to make the novel engaging. Though Elizabeth’s affair with the Count may be consistent with the times, possible, and even understandable in view of her husband’s numerous extra-marital relationships, there is little evidence in the historical record to suggest that she was unfaithful to her husband. This not only affects the believability of the story but Pataki’s credibility as an author.
Overall, apart from the intriguing information about the Hapsburg royal court and some well-crafted and exquisitely detailed narration, The Accidental Empress is too long, too inconsistent, and too fast and loose with historical facts to recommend it.
I was given a free copy by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.