For Readers & Book Clubs
Introduction: When tragic news brings Sisi out of her fragile seclusion, Sisi is forced to return to Vienna where she struggles with conflicting desires: to keep her family together, or to flee amid the collapse of her suffocating marriage and the gathering tumult of the First World War. In an age of crumbling monarchies, Sisi fights to assert her right to the throne beside her husband, to win the love of her people and the world, and to save an empire. But in the end, can she save herself?
- The Habsburg family is perhaps most famous for being the family to start World War I when its heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo. But the world did not simply erupt into a global conflict overnight. What signs do we see throughout this novel that a major international crisis is looming?
- What is your favorite thing about seeing the Habsburg Court come to life? Is it the music? The fashion? The court rituals? Discuss the aspects of this time period and setting that you enjoyed learning about.
- The opening quotes of this novel are Sisi explaining why she is such a compulsive traveler, and her lady-in-waiting describing Sisi’s perpetual restlessness. What significance does travel play in Sisi’s life throughout this novel? What are some other forms of escape, literal or symbolic, for the empress?
- Discuss the three great love interests of Sisi’s life – Franz Joseph, Julius Andrassy, and Bay Middleton. How do they each treat her differently? How does Sisi behave differently with each of them? Was any one of them the one true love of Sisi’s life?
- Were Crown Prince Rudolf’s troubled adulthood and tragic death inevitable? What impact did Sisi have on his fate? Would history have been different had Rudolf lived?
- Sisi is still remembered to this day for her otherworldly beauty. Everyone from the Shah of Persia to the Kaiser of Germany proclaimed admiration for her. Discuss this aspect of her personality. Does Sisi’s vanity make her unlikable? Is her fixation with her looks in any way understandable?
- Discuss the character of King Ludwig of Bavaria. What role does Ludwig play in Sisi’s life? How does Ludwig differ from some of the other monarchs we meet throughout the novel?
- While at the Archduchess Sophie’s deathbed, Sisi comes across her mother-in-law’s diary and reads various different passages that take her back to significant moments in her life and in her problematic relationship with Sophie. Discuss this moment. Did this insight into Sophie’s feelings change your understanding of her at all? How did this revelation affect Sisi?
- Sisi often laments the responsibilities of her royal role, fighting against the expectations placed upon her, whereas Franz Joseph is more accepting of his obligations and duties. Do you think Sisi had it difficult? How would you feel if you were thrust into her place?
- What would have happened had Sisi not been murdered by anarchist Luigi Luccheni? Would the fate of the Habsburg Empire have been altered? Would Franz Joseph have been different? Would history have played out differently?