About this book: (from the publisher) Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a horse.
Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to win the Grand National—until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared passion for riding leads to an infatuation that jeopardizes the growing bond between Bay and Charlotte, and threatens all of their futures.
About the author: Daisy Goodwin, a Harkness scholar who attended Columbia University’s film school after earning a history degree at Cambridge University, is now a leading television producer in the UK. She is also a book reviewer for the London Times and was Chair of the judging panel of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. Daisy and her husband, an ABC TV executive, have two daughters and live in London. Visit www.DaisyGoodwin.co.uk
Does the cover suit the story? Nicely, with its suggestions of elegant sophistication.
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13. Hardly any language, but includes mature subject matter, including adultery.
You’ll want to buy this book if … you love historical fiction based on real historical figures–in this case, not only Austria’s Empress Elizabeth, but also distant relations of the late Princess Diana and today’s Duchess of Cambridge.
Why did I read this book? For St. Martin’s Press for review.
Would I read another by this author? Yes, I like her natural, easy-to-read style and the way she brings a far-distant society into sharp focus.
My take: When I traveled in Austria years ago, the Empress Elizabeth, “Sisi,” was still all the rage. Her lovely profile or cameo appeared on almost every box of Viennese chocolate or souvenir or t-shirt. Her beauty was being used to sell products a century after her death.
Needless to say this was a woman who fascinated the people of her day, and many long thereafter.
Which makes her a worthy subject for a novel, and when you add to the cast of characters distant relations of the late Princess Diana and the charming Kate Middleton–well, it’s hard to imagine many female readers of historical fiction who won’t want to take a peek.
Daisy Goodwin does an imaginative job in spinning her tale, taking a slightly higher narrative view than is typical in much of today’s fiction so that she may give the proper historical context. Her prose is effortless–to read, that is. I’m sure it took her some fair amount of work to get it that way.
All in all, I liked this story but didn’t love it. I enjoyed the intrigue of the times and the various twists of plot, but I felt the story faltered a bit with the introduction of a certain flamboyant American. Perhaps his personality was too over-the-top for my taste, but I kind of wanted him to go away. He did serve a useful purpose–if maybe just a shade contrived–in bringing about the eventual conclusion. Which is not about Elizabeth, by the way, though you might expect it. Rather, this story belongs to Bay Middleton, supposed fortune hunter and equestrian extraordinaire.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.