Second and final installment of Pataki’s sympathetic fictional biography of Austro-Hungarian Empress Sisi.
When we last left Sisi, in the first volume, she was rebelling against the strictures of her life at the Viennese court as the consort of Emperor Franz Joseph. In particular, she was defying her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, who had not only exacerbated Sisi’s estrangement from Franz, but appropriated the upbringing of her three children. Sisi embarks on a lifelong strategy for escaping the pressures of noblesse oblige: traveling. After going to Corfu to recuperate from a depression, she heads for the family estate in Hungary, where she can spend time horseback riding and enjoying the attentions of Count Andrássy, the former rebel who helped consolidate the two kingdoms. She gives birth to Valerie, the only child who will be raised free of Sophie’s interference, rumored by many to be Andrássy’s child. Too soon, however, duty calls and Sisi must return to court. After rescuing her son, Crown Prince Rudolf, from an abusive tutor, Sisi learns, as Sophie is on her deathbed, that the dragon lady meant well all the while. After enduring an interminable summer hosting other royals at the 1873 Viennese World Fair, Sisi is invited to England by the Earl of Spencer (ancestor of Princess Diana) to hone her fox hunting skills. While galloping over hill and dale she falls in love again, this time with dashing sportsman Bay Middleton, her only equal in horsemanship. Along the way we meet her deranged cousin King Ludwig of Bavaria, who bankrupts his kingdom building surreal castles and supporting his great love, Richard Wagner. Since this is a historical novel that strives for fidelity to the facts, Pataki draws a veil of privacy over Sisi’s rumored, but never definitively proven, infidelities. On the other hand, no such reticence downplays Franz’s rigidity or Prince Rudolf’s self-destructiveness.
A satisfying saga of the late Habsburg period.