I am so excited to welcome Allison Pataki to the blog to talk about her gorgeous new novel, The Accidental Empress, for today’s stop on the blog tour hosted by Kismet Book Touring.
I love reading stories about history’s leading ladies and The Accidental Empress introduces the fascinating and intriguing Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known more familiarly as Sisi. For those who don’t know who she is or of her role in history, be sure to read the book’s description and the interview below to learn more about her.
And for those who’d like to learn a little bit more, who’d like to become immersed in her world, be sure to pick up a copy of this amazing book on its release date next Tuesday.
There are a number of guest posts, interviews and reviews on this tour. Visit Kismet’s website for more details by clicking the banner above, or check out the schedule at the bottom of this post.
About THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS
Title: THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS
Author: Allison Pataki
Release date: February 17, 2015
Publisher: Howard Books
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
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.”
Q. In just a few words, what can you tell us about Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” of Austria?
Ah, what a challenge—to use just a few words to describe a figure who was (and remains) larger than life. Sisi was intelligent. She was charismatic. She was beautiful and intelligent and complicated and sensitive. She dreamed big and loved even bigger. She was a figure upon whom “the divine right of kings” belief was thrust, and yet, she was so aware of her own flaws and human frailty. She was like Princess Diana meets Marie Antoinette meets Anne Boleyn meets Catherine the Great, and then some. She was inspiring while also being a tragic figure. She is absolutely beguiling, and someone you definitely want to get to know! I can’t wait for readers of The Accidental Empress to discover the many layers of this complicated and enchanting leading lady from history.
Q. And what made you choose her to be the focus of your second novel, The Accidental Empress?
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.
Q. What was your favorite part about writing The Accidental Empress – was it the characters, the time period, being able to expand upon the history?
All of the above!
In terms of the setting, I could not have been gifted with a richer and more enthralling setting for a novel. Sisi presided over the golden era of the Habsburg Court, in an age that gave us advances in culture and the arts and architecture, as well as advances in science and politics. So this is a world of lavish ball gowns, glittering and gilded palaces, stunning Austrian and Hungarian landscapes and scenery…ah, to go there in the imagination was a pure delight! Plus, Sisi’s family gave us the castle that we all know of as “The Walt Disney Castle.” Her family gave us the waltz and Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Klimt’s paintings. Sisi ruled at the time that a young Doctor named Sigmund Freud was just down the street in Vienna inventing the practice of psychoanalysis. And this reign of Sisi and Franz Joseph takes us right up to the doorstep of World War I. Her heir was the man who was assassinated (Archduke Franz Ferdinand), prompting her husband to declare war and setting off World War I, the greatest armed conflict the world had known to that point.
But perhaps it was the exploration and development of the characters that was even more thrilling. In some ways, this is a fairytale, in that it is the story of a romance and courtship that plucks an innocent young girl from obscurity and puts her on the throne of Europe’s most lavish court. And yet, this is not your typical fairy tale. How could it be—when Empress Sisi and Emperor Franz Joseph and the rest of the characters are based on red-blooded and complicated and real human beings? They have the expectation of “ruling by divine right” and the “anointing of God” and all that. And yet, they are just mortal, flawed people. We can relate to them. We yearn with them and root for them. Sisi and Franz Joseph—not your typical fairy tale lovers!
Q. The Accidental Empress has quite a different setting than that of your novel, The Traitor’s Wife, and yet both novels have young, fascinating female protagonists. Is it the characters or the time period that draws you in and makes you opt to write the story?
It is the characters, absolutely! But I would be lying if I said that I did not find both settings/time periods absolutely enthralling, too. ☺
Both novels tell the stories of fascinating women from history—women who were leading ladies in their own time, but who have become footnotes in the historical record. A big difference that I would identify is that Peggy Shippen Arnold, in The Traitor’s Wife, was situated wholly within American history and the story of our Revolutionary War, while Sisi is a European leading lady. Another key difference is that Peggy is more of an anti-heroine, while Sisi is the protagonist that we root for and yearn with and relate to.
And yet, in the case of the two novels I’ve published so far, there has been a personal connection for me to the history of each. That is the key for me—that personal connection is what makes me so impassioned to tell that particular story of that particular woman from history.
In my first novel, The Traitor’s Wife, the novel is the story of Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America’s most infamous act of treason. Peggy and Benedict tried to turn West Point Fort over to the British during the Revolution; had they succeeded, the British would have won the war. For me, this story was close to home, quite literally, because I grew up across the river from West Point. As a child I played in Benedict and Peggy Arnold’s yard. I knew the land and the history and I felt theirs was a story that needed to be told in a historical fiction novel.
And then, when it came to the story of Sisi, it was my family’s heritage in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, as I explained above.
Q. What was your favorite part about doing the research for The Accidental Empress?
Research…I just love research, as odd as that may sound. It is so fun for me. It is about diving headfirst into another time and place. It’s about bringing that world and the characters to life in your imagination and then figuring out how to recreate them with your words.
One of the most fun parts of the research process was traveling. It was in Vienna, years ago, that I first stumbled across the image of Sisi. She still looms large in Austria and Hungary as an almost deified figure. The Schönbrunn and Hofburg Palaces are fantastic resources in which to learn about not only Sisi, but all of the Habsburgs. You enter Sisi’s bedroom and you just can’t help but imagine her being in there—what must it have been like for her? Vienna still feels so grand and imperial today. You feel the power and majesty of the Habsburgs all over that city.
Budapest, Sisi’s other capital city, feels more whimsical and unruly. Walking around the Castle Hill and looking out over the Danube and the Chain Bridge, I could imagine why the romantic Sisi loved it there so much. That was her escape from Vienna and all of her official duties and obligations.
Both places were hugely important locales in her story, so I loved visiting both to learn about Sisi, Franz Joseph, and their world and their life together.
Q. What was your favorite scene to write in The Accidental Empress? And why was it a favorite?
The scene of the Hungarian coronation in Budapest, which is interwoven throughout the novel and then caps off the novel as a grand finale. Readers will see that that moment was Sisi’s moment of triumph. It was at that time that Sisi reached the height of her power, her influence, and her physical strength and beauty. It’s also the moment in which many loose threads of the novel’s plot come together—for Sisi and for the other characters. Plus, it’s just plain fun to write about a party as lavish and grand as a coronation atop the city of Budapest.
The years leading up to this moment had been grueling and depleting and difficult—not only for Sisi, but for the whole Habsburg Court. This moment signifies that Sisi, as an empress and a woman, has a new plan—for herself and for the court and for the empire. Watch out, Sisi has entered the palace!
Q. Could you give us a sneak peek at what life was like for Sisi? In other words, what can we expect in The Accidental Empress – drama, political intrigue, opulence, treachery, heartbreak, murder?
All of the above, actually, and then some! I would add that we take a good hard look at the concepts or themes of “love at first sight” and “happily ever after.” There is love and lust, fidelity and betrayal, appearance vs. reality, and a love triangle that leads to a surprise ending. Ultimately, it’s the story of one fascinating and enchanting young woman as she fights to come into her own, with all of her struggles playing out against a glittering and imperial backdrop and in a royal court where danger and temptation seem to lurk in every stateroom and bedroom.
A Tumultuous Love Story Inside the Habsburg Empire
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.
Also by Allison Pataki
Title: THE TRAITOR’S WIFE
Author: Allison Pataki
Release date: February 11, 2014
Publisher: Howard Books
Formats: Hardcover, paperback, audio, eBook
A riveting historical novel about Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America’s most infamous act of treason . . .
Everyone knows Benedict Arnold–the Revolutionary War general who betrayed America and fled to the British–as history’s most notorious turncoat. Many know Arnold’s co-conspirator, Major John Andre, who was apprehended with Arnold’s documents in his boots and hanged at the orders of General George Washington. But few know of the integral third character in the plot: a charming young woman who not only contributed to the betrayal but orchestrated it.
Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John Andre. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.
Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress’s affairs even when it could cost her everything, The Traitor’s Wife brings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom.”
The Traitor’s Wife Trailer
There is a tour-wide giveaway for…
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)!
***Giveaway is open internationally***
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The Tour Schedule
Feb. 9th – Reader Girls – Guest Post
Feb. 10th – Sassy Book Lovers – Excerpt
Feb. 11th – Fine Lines – Author Interview
Feb. 12th – Reading Reality – Guest Post
Feb. 13th – Fiktshun – Author Interview
Feb. 16th – The Maiden’s Court – Guest Post
Feb. 17th – Bewitched Bookworms – Author Interview
Feb. 18th – Fire and Ice – Guest Post
Feb. 19th – Bookish – Author Interview
Feb. 20th – Curling Up With A Good Book – Author Interview
Feb. 23rd – Books and Things – Guest Post
Feb. 24th – Books Glorious Books – Excerpt
Feb. 25th – Sara In Bookland – Author Interview
Feb. 26th – Historical Fiction Obsession – Guest Post
Feb. 27th – Library of a Book Witch – Author Interview