Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki (2015)

I got my copy of The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki (2015), a historical fiction / romance novel, at a librarian book exchange from a fellow archivist who said she got it as a gift but would never read it. Honestly, half of me wishes I had just let this one go, but I started it, I finished it, and now I'm writing about it.

To be fair, I have really enjoyed some historical romance in the past, particularly when it involves royalty, and this story of a scrappy Bavarian duchess turned Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire seemed like it could be a good fit. The book itself is pretty predictable and not bad enough to be a fun bad read or good enough to be a fun good read. The life of Elizabeth (known to her admirers as Sisi), however, is fascinating. Take a minute to check out her Wikipedia page. She's got some excellent mother-in-law tension, a doomed romance, a son who died in a crazy murder-suicide pact, a wild beauty routine, an independent life as a traveler, and then was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist in Geneva who wanted to kill the next royal personage he saw. Plus her life overlapped with the invention of photography so we have tons of kick ass photographs of her and her beloved hair.

This particular book just goes through the first part of Elizabeth's life, through the couple's coronation in Hungary, and Pataki has already published a second book in the Sisi series that delves into more of her interesting life. (And if that name sounds familiar, Allison Pataki is indeed the daughter of George Pataki, former New York governor and ex-Republican potential presidential candidate.)

On the plus side, the descriptions of court life in Vienna and the Hungarian countryside are very well done, and the book has a nice structure that helps to give the story a little bit of a life. I mostly read this one in airports and on airplanes, and it was just about the perfect thing for that kind of reading experience (except when I ended up sitting next to a woman who had THREE royal historical romances in her carry on bag and then wanted to talk to me about how great the historical romance genre is for half of our flight).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir (1992)

I love me some English royal history, and Alison Weir's The Princes in the Tower (1992) definitely scratches that itch.

Weir sets out to review all the available evidence on the fate of the two Yorkist prices (Edward V and his brother, Richard) who went into the Tower of London during the rule of their uncle, Richard III, and were never seen again. Weir is staunchly in the "Richard did it" camp and deftly brings together centuries of documentation, interpretation, and research to bolster her claim. She also brings in some pretty sharp (and sometimes smirky) counter-arguments to those in the "Richard is innocent" camp (a centuries-long tradition).

I liked that she didn't go 100% Shakespeare and claim that Richard was evil or necessarily more scheming than anyone else -- she puts his decisions and actions in a context that makes a lot of sense for the man and his times. The book ends with a fascinating look at the archaeological evidence gathered when the bones of two young boys were found in a trunk buried under a staircase in the Tower during the reign of Charles II (about 200 years after their deaths), as well as a scientific study of those bones done in the 1930s. There is something very CSI: Medieval England about some of this (in a good way!) and Weir makes the history and connections understandable for a non-expert without seeming to dumb anything down.

I'd be curious to see how Weir would integrate the 2012 discovery of Richard's skeleton and subsequent testing and reburial, but a cursory google search didn't turn up any reaction from her to the project. It did, however, turn up this article with a truly excellent headline.

This is a readable and straightforward book about a key moment in British royal history that led to the end of the Yorks and the the rise of the Tudors. Definitely recommended.