Review: The Empress Chronicles by Suzy Vitello

Posted September 5, 2014 by Lillian in Reviews / 1 Comment

I received this book via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review.

Review: The Empress Chronicles by Suzy VitelloThe Empress Chronicles by Suzy Vitello
Series: The Empress Chronicles #1
Published by Diversion Books on 2014-09-02
Length: 284 pages
Reviewing eARC from Netgalley
Rating:

In this dazzling first book in THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES series from the author of "The Moment Before," one courageous girl seeks keys to the past to unlock the future...

When city girl Liz is banished to a rural goat farm on the outskirts of Portland, the 15-year-old feels her life spiraling out of control. She can't connect to her father or his young girlfriend, and past trauma adds to her sense of upheaval. The only person who seems to keep her sane is a troubled boy who is fighting his own demons. But all of this changes in one historical instant.

One-hundred fifty years earlier, Elisabeth of Bavaria has troubles of her own. Her childhood is coming to a crashing end, and her destiny is written in the form of a soothsaying locket that has the ability to predict true love. But evil is afoot in the form of a wicked enchantress who connives to wield the power of the locket for her own destructive ends.

When Liz finds a timeworn diary, and within it a locket, she discovers the secrets and desires of the young Bavarian princess who will one day grow up to be the legendary Empress of Austria. It is in the pages of the diary that these two heroines will meet, and it is through their interwoven story that Liz will discover she has the power to rewrite history-including her own...

The Empress Chronicles by Suzy Vitello is an interesting piece of historical fiction, with alternating points of view between Liz in the present and Sisi in 1850s Austria. Liz is a city girl who while her mother is away on business is sent to live with her father on a goat farm. Not only is this cruel, but unbearable to Liz who is OCD and just got out of a psychiatric hospital. Sisi, better known as Empress Elisabeth of Austria, is fifteen and not yet Empress. She is introverted, a daddy’s girl, and still living in her “childish ways” when her mother and aunt call her and her sister Helene to arrange their marriages. When Liz finds Sisi’s old diary and locket, Liz becomes obsessed with the translation and the potential to change her fate.

The Characters

Liz is a fifteen year old who has had a rough start to high school. Teased in middle school about her hair, then a failed romantic endeavor, and the divorce of her parents lead to her having a mental breakdown. You see, Liz has OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. She believes that everything about her is bad, everything is covered in germs, and if she doesn’t fix it then people will be hurt. After cleaning a bathroom she shared with her mother and mixing the wrong chemicals, she lands herself in a psychiatric institution. Once released, her mother sends her to live with her father and his new girlfriend on a goat farm. To me, this is just cruel to send a girl recovering from an OCD breakdown to a farm that is crawling with dirt and germs. Not only is she stuck at this farm with her dad and Willow, but girlfriend’s trouble-making brother, Cory, is sent there too. Cory is a carefree teenage boy, or at least that’s how he wants people to see him. In reality he is just as troubled as Liz.

Sisi is also fifteen years old when this story begins and I love her! She is portrayed as the tomboy sister, interested in everything her father does. It isn’t until her imperious aunt makes a rather mean comment about her teeth that Sisi becomes concerned with her looks. Throughout the book, the author portrays Sisi as a carefree child, then she slowly becomes more and more a teenager, even having her first menses. It’s actually quite sad to read as the vibrant character goes out of Sisi as the book continues. Also Sisi is a bit of a romantic. She wants to be unabashedly in love, and as every teen has had a first crush knows it doesn’t always end well. Sisi when thinking about her parent’s relationship and her uncle’s affair with a gypsy says this:

How a man could fall so deeply in love that nothing else mattered. Not the silly laws, nor the arguing over where a country border should go, or even who should wear what hat when. Who cared about what time a beer garden should shut down for the night when real tears and passions and hearts were involved?

Like I said, she’s a romantic 😉

The Plot

This is truly a coming-of-age story that centers around social issues such as anorexia, bulimia, depression, and of course OCD, typical mental health diseases that usually begin during adolescence. Liz is fighting to overcome her compulsions. All she wants is to be normal, to not feel like she has to wash her hands or wear gloves all the time, but to just be normal. Cory becomes her lifeline in a sense. Together they steal Sisi’s journal from her psychiatrist, and because Cory can read German, he begins translating it for her. Cory as I already stated is just as troubled as Liz and together they begin to overcome their obstacles.

Sisi, unfortunately, begins a downhill slide as she succumbs to the pressures of her mother and governess. She must act more like a lady. And, again unfortunately, she falls in love, but with the wrong person. Sisi’s love is sent away and then as history tells us she is forced into another marriage. Or is she?

As the synopsis says, Liz finds a link to the past with Sisi’s journal and locket, and well let’s just say it gets really interesting. As a first book in the series, the author has set the stage well for the next book leaving a great cliff-hanger and an enchanting mystery.

My Conclusions

As my friends know, historical fiction is my vice. I love it! This book tops them all for creativity and to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever read another quite like it. The author blends the past and present so well as Liz’s and Sisi’s stories run parallel to one another. I really can’t wait for the next one, and since this book just came out I’m guessing I have a long wait 😐 If you enjoy historical fiction, young adult literature, coming-of-age stories with a little magic thrown in I highly recommend you check out this new book.

About Suzy Vitello

Suzy Vitello is a proud founding member of a critique group recently dubbed The Hottest Writing Group in Portland, and her short stories have won fellowships and prizes (including the Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Award, and an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship).

Suzy's young adult novels, THE MOMENT BEFORE and THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES are available wherever books and ebooks are sold.

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