Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publishing Date: July 29
Genre: historical fiction
In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria, is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies.
Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything – except happiness. Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.
Meet Charlotte Baird, a young heiress with a dislike of snobbery and a passion for photography. Enter Bay Middleton, a calvary captain who notices and flatters Charlotte and her family, while still stubbornly maintaining his “lower” position as a pilot during hunting season. Chaos ensues not when Charlotte hears of Bay’s past philandering ways, but when Sisi, the Empress of Austria, visits England to experience the English hunt. Rumored to be the most beautiful woman of Europe, Sisi captures every man’s attention and feeds the fire of gossip among the women. Charlotte is eager to take a photo of the Empress for her portfolio, but after one glance at the finished result, her trust in Bay begins to waver.
Though the book comes across as a character study on Sisi, there’s an equal balance of attention given to Sisi, Bay, and Charlotte, whose lives were indeed intertwined in history. Charlotte is wealthy but leans toward the liberal, modern woman. She’s quirky and fun, focused on artistry rather than class distinctions and the upcoming season — to her future sister-in-law’s dismay. Bay is a womanizer, but there’s something about his character that switches and softens with Charlotte, leaving you wondering if he’s truly loyal to her up to the very end. Finally there’s Sisi, who truly was a beautiful woman with very strange habits in maintaining beauty. She led an interesting life, and much of what happened to her — or, in this case in the book, will happen to her — is reflected and hinted toward in Goodwin’s novel. Absolutely fascinating. If you ever get the chance to research her or the Hapsburg history, you’ll understand what I mean. She’s a poster girl for the future standard of female beauty and the media.
Like all great historical fiction, this book took it’s time in unfolding the plot. The drama is slow and low — it’s intriguing, layered, and watching the story come to life is the most fascinating process. Not only are the characters interesting, but the history and social class politics and trinkets at the time, too! For example: photography. The time it takes for a photo to be shot and later developed, the ways in which photography was viewed by various people across the classes, the great things people could do to manipulate their photos. So exciting! And though I’m not much of a horse person, the hunting scenes were thrilling and wonderful — and the race at the end! Phew. Even English cultural norms for the time were compared to that in Vienna when Sisi’s chapters were showcased.
Well done. A great read for hist-fic readers interested in a particular time in English and Hapsburg history.
Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from St. Martin’s Press for review!