I won this book on a Goodreads Giveaway! I don't usually win on drawings, but it's never stopped me from trying and entering and I finally won! Anyhow here is my review: 4.5 stars (Goodreads, we NEED half stars!!) Reviews on Goodreads Giveaway's are encouraged but not required.
First off, while I don't have a personal knowledge of historical accounts of Sisi prior to reading the first novel about her, I've read a lot of criticism about how people are not a fan of Sisi (the person) or how incredibly selfish she was. HOWEVER, I feel that it is incredibly important that we not judge people of the past by today's standards. By today's standards, yes, she was selfish. But when you take into account the world in which she lived-not just the time period, but the constraints of tradition-you may take a different view. How would YOU feel if your children were snatch from you at birth, not being allowed to name them, feed them, or do anything of the sort to bond with them? What if YOU had a person who was hell bent on making sure you didn't ruin those children and as a result, you never got to be a part of their lives? What kind of crazy and/or 'selfish' things would that push you to do? What if you found out that your husband had several trysts with who knows how many women and that it had all been arranged for him because it was expected, accepted, and he was ENTITLED to those things and there was NOTHING you could do to stop it and you were forbidden to mention it and it was implied that you ought to accept it too? This is the kind of stuff that pushed Sisi over the edge and I can hardly blame her.
So I think the key to appreciating this story is to keep your perception in context of the time period and expectations she was held to.
I think I liked this one even better than the first. I think that Sisi's character took on much more depth and a better perception of the world in which she had to live. I feel that Sisi really mellowed out in this account. As she accepted certain things as just "what is" and found ways in which she could cope in her own way. Right or wrong, she did remarkably well reining in her mental struggles-I doubt anyone in Society would have pegged her with a depressive disorder prior to her son's death, whereas others in her family were openly criticized for their mental shortcomings (Rudolf, Ludwig, her father).
This book swirls with emotion; but not that of an adolescent bride forced into a world of protocol and restraints that she does not believe in (and that doesn't believe in her), like the first one this emotion is far more deep. There is deep depression among several. In a world that viewed such conditions as a weakness or selfish choice, depression was rampant in Vienna, nicknamed at one point as the suicide capital of the world. I'm SO glad I live in an age where it is more understood.
The more I read about the imperial family and their relatives, the more it seems like they have their own version of the "Kennedy Curse" or "Romanov Curse"so much tragic death in such a relatively short time. The things that Franz Joseph saw come to pass during his lifetime and how with his life's end came the end of an era of monarchal rule. The whole world shifted away from monarchy's by WWI, and there are few left alive who could remember the days when those in charge ruled by "divine right". How people would balk at such an idea today!
Sisi was a deeply disturbed individual and lacked any of the tools we have in modern society to combat things that plagued her. The inability she had to rear her older children, and no way to reconcile those relationships, her insistence that she not interfere with Rudolf and Stephanie's relationship-but to a fault because such personal matters were not to be discussed, even when it might be to someone's benefit to have the information! How would Rudolf be able to cope with his apparent bi-polar disorder if he knew that his mother suffered from a similar malady? Could Sisi have proven to be a wonderful mother-in-law to Stephanie if she had injected just a friendly conversation here and there instead of the hands off approach. How could things be different if Sisi understood her feelings of restlessness and need to escape had a deeper meaning that maybe she could confront? What if the times were different and she could actually discuss with her husband how his actions made her FEEL and that could have maybe repaired things? Her cousin Ludwig suffered from some degree of mania; though more recent research leads us to believe he was less afflicted than reports wanted you to believe. Rudolf had problems that were exacerbated by the fact that his tutor abused him.
I liked the treatment of Sisi and her supposed affairs. Nothing confirms that she was ever unfaithful physically to her husband. Though, I suppose an emotional affair with Andrassy and/or Bay are definitely plausible, in that time, an emotional affair wasn't anything worth dissolving a marriage over. I like that Pataki kept her physically loyal to her place as wife to Franz Joseph, even if they were never again intimate with each other after the conception of Valerie.
Franz Joseph's motto, from his mother, was "I do not change". And in some ways that served him well, but in others, most certainly served to help ultimately end the era of monarchy.
SO much to think about! I really would like to learn more about Sisi. I feel that in cases like that, that it is a lesson in not judging too harshly. Especially those who seem to "have it all" when we lack. I always have very little sympathy for celebrities or other high profile individuals, because I feel those people sought that life out; they chose that path, they live with the consequences. But in Sisi's case, she only became Empress because of who she was born to. Otherwise, she never would have been an option. So I try not to judge the second generation, people born into a certain situation who really didn't ask to be there. And I try not to judge the others too harshly, because, maybe they DID seek it, but maybe, like Sisi, they didn't truly know what they were getting themselves into.
Comparing Sisi's endeavor's and travels, etc, to that of current political leaders, I can most certainly say I would have been among her critics. Why should she get to spend millions on things and travel when there are citizens in need of anything? From the outside, I 100% get the political criticism she got. I don't approve of the gossip that was unfairly heaped upon her. I rarely give the gossip of political leaders a glance. Given the circumstances of her time, I sympathize with Sisi because she had no other way to cope and "keep up face". But in today's world, there is no excuse to hide depression in spending, and travelling to outrun anything. Although, I don't suspect that to be the reason for any current political figure's personal spending habits in the last 2 decades.
But I think what I loved most was the evident love-so deep and true-that Franz and Sisi had for each other. It was not the infatuation of their youth, and they did not share a physical relationship (as stated earlier), but as the years wore on, they did feel affection towards one another, admiration, respect, and something that is deep, beyond your basic romance. It's good to be reminded that love has many faces, and even though they had their differences, they did love each other. Franz' infidelity was probably not malicious-it was what was done, it was his right, his privilege as Emperor to have certain....pleasures....made available to him, and it probably never crossed his mind that it was truly wrong or that he might offend Sisi. Sisi had probably not been warned past the fact that Franz would not come to their wedding bed a virgin and she should not expect it, because such things were a certain way. Had Franz and Sisi been born a generation later, the idea that a man is entitled to numerous affairs would be less accepted or expected. But I don't blame Sisi for closing off that part of the relationship-she had already been made extremely ill from a sexually transmitted disease. I wouldn't want to chance any more of that-not to mention the emotional issues!
Anyhow, there is so much to this book and to Sisi and her life, it's so complex, and no one will ever REALLY know everything that happened and the inner thoughts of anyone-beyond what they wrote in their journals. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I also loved reading about all the factual accounts that were part of the novel-I'm the kind of person who wouldn't have minded a chapter note with every chapter detailing exactly which parts were fact :-)