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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: The Empress Chronicles by Suzy Vitello

Read (August 19-20, 2014)
Book: The Empress Chronicles (The Empress Chronicles #1) by Suzy Vitello
Publication Date: September 4, 2014
Publisher: Diversion Books
Genre/s: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Source: Publisher via Netgalley

In this dazzling novel 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 time-worn 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...

Readers of books like Rachel Harris’s MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEENTH CENTURY will love THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES.
- (source)
“People think that what kills the soul is failed love. It is not. The real tragedy to one's soul is regret. Regret...leaves its stain for generations.”
This is the hardest review I've ever written to date. I've been staring at my computer's screen for the past couple of hours trying to think how I'd go about reviewing The Empress Chronicles. It's not helping that the more I think about this book, the more bewildered I get.

The charm of this novel is in its narrative execution. It simply begs to be read and as a reader, you have no choice but to keep turning the pages. It's not only a testament to how my love for this genre grows with every historical fiction novel I read, but also because The Empress Chronicles has an entrancing quality that cannot be ignored. I recently read Queen of Someday, and while it falls under the same genre minus the magical elements, The Empress Chronicles is heavier and definitely more complicated.

Its storyline alternates between the contemporary and past timelines of two girls sharing the same name. Liz, from the present time, who is struggling from an anxiety disorder and feelings of social alienation contributed by her illness as well as her father's new life, and Elisabeth or Sisi, from the 19th century Austrian monarchy, who feels trapped by what the court requires of her.

I admit that even after I finished the novel, it was not made clear how these two are connected aside from bearing the same name, possessing a magical diary, and having to face the very same mental illness at some point in their lifetime. It's not surprising that I'm left with a sinking feeling of not having grasp something tangible. In a way, Liz's struggles to overcome her issues was gradually managed and realistically portrayed, and Sisi's acceptance of what she must sacrifice for her one true love was reflective of how she had transitioned from a blithe, indifferent girl to a more mature future queen. I am just having trouble seeing how some of the other details served in the book's overall picture.

So even though this novel's narrative is its main strength, it also acted as a double-edged sword, crippling the story in becoming more substantial and stable. If anything, it felt as if The Empress Chronicles was written with the second installment in mind, which I don't generally have qualms with except that I felt slightly disappointed that nothing significant happened until the latter part of the book.

This is obviously a matter of preference because I'm all for character build-up which Vitello did quite deftly but I find myself more interested in "having the power to rewrite history" aspect. This is not to say that the characters were not interesting because I did eventually warm up to our two different yet seemingly connected Elisabeths. It's just that we barely scratched the surface of what the blurb had promised. Nevertheless, I am excited to know what's in store for us in the next installment. There are so much tangents to be explored. The story really has no direction to go to but forward and the sequel would be hard-pressed to fall in the same pitfalls that were present in this one.

What is the point of having the power to change history, if it might be too late? I don't know. I think I will have words with Vitello and I totally meant that in a non-threatening way. The Empress Chronicles will really have its readers' minds grinding. With that bizarre ending and too many exciting prospects for the sequel to go for, unless you're not into character-driven stories and historical fiction in general, I don't see why you wouldn't pick this up. This would definitely appeal to fans of Philippa Gregory and will serve well for the curious and for those who needs an excuse to dabble more in the history of the world's past sovereigns.

Cupid's Verdict:
3.5 Cupids
A copy was provided by the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review. 
Quote taken from an uncorrected ARC and may change in the final copy. 

12 comments:

  1. I get sooo annoyed when reviews are hard to write. Heh! If I feel super passionate about loving OR hating it, then it's not so hard. But sometimes the ones I can't just...can't. Nope. But I think you did a great review on this one! ;-) I do like character driven stories AND historical fiction...but mixing that with magical diaries and stuff? Doesn't sound my exact cup of tea. I might not dash after this one.

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  2. The whole history changing power seems like an exercise in futility if he protagonist is always too late. Frustrating! However, when the writing really shines, I tend to be able to more easily ignore other minor annoyances. And, darn you for calling the ending bizarre without giving us any hints as to why! ;)

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  3. I guess I'm not the biggest fan of historical fiction, so I would probably give this one a miss. Great work on the review though, even though it was hard to write, I couldn't tell. It really annoys me when I read a blurb and I pick a book up based on it, but then it turns out to not even be covered in the book (eg. Dorothy Must Die). It sounds like this book was confusing overall. Lovely review Sarah!

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  4. Woha writing here sounds like something I'd love and it really seems appealing to me. I'm not really happy that most of the book was let's say pointless and that most of the things happen later on, but still it somehow leads to the fact that the next one will be much better. Which is a great thing. Great review, Sarah :)

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  5. Hm. There are a number of aspects of this story I find hugely appealing Sarah, but I definitely do not like to be left feeling as though I missed something or just didn't quite catch on fast enough to grasp what was happening before the book ended. I'll be interested to see if the sequel banishes that feeling for you and gives you more significant events to really grab onto. Thanks for your thoughts!!!

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  6. For having such a hard time writing this review, you did a pretty darn good job at it Sarah! ;)

    This sounds really intriguing. I absolutely love historical fiction, but most historical fiction I read is usually set during WWII so I'm really interested in reading something like this set in the early 19th century.

    I admit that even after I finished the novel, it was not made clear how these two are connected.

    I have to admit that this concerns me a bit because the whole premise is based upon the similarities between these two girls, and if their lives don't intertwine, I have a feeling, as a reader, you'll finish with the feeling that you've missed something crucial. However, I think, despite this, I'll still give this a go because it sounds really well-done in every other aspect, and I think this might be relatively easy to look over. Thanks for sharing Sarah, and, as always, BRILLIANT review! <3

    ~ Zoe @ The Infinite To-Read Shelf

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  7. This is an interesting concept here, Sarah. I think I would've liked more of a connection between past and present characters, but still it sounds like a great story. Hope you like the sequel as much if not more. Great review! :)

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  8. Aw. It sucks when the story leaves you with some unanswered questions, huh. I totally understand that feeling. I love the premise of this book. But I'm still undecided if I want to read it. Maybe if you've read the sequel and liked it, I'd pick this one up.

    Fantastic review, Sarah! Love that opening quote. <3

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  9. OMG! Wow to you for still being able to write an awesome review despite the fact that you had a rough beginning. I swear, my current reviews are already spouting the same words again and again because I'm not just in the mood to write reviews these past few days.

    Anyway, back to your review and the empress chronicles, I don't think I am going to try this one. I don't who Philippa Gregory is and I am not big on historical fiction. Add the fact that this book seems very confusing. Eekkk.... I have a feeling that this one will stress the hell out of me. Oh well, I should just say that good with luck with the sequel!

    Lovely review, Sarah!

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  10. Brilliant review, Sarah. I actually thought to give the book a try for a moment there, but I don't know, I'm not a Phillipa Gregory fan. I'm actually interested in the magical realism aspect, but the fact that barely anything happens, that it only scratches the surface of what it promised is a let down, and so a tentative no, perhaps.

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  11. First off, I completely enjoyed your review Sarah! Many of the elements you mentioned about the writing are ones that draw me to an historical as well, but I can understand the somewhat empty feeling you can get in an ending that's vague or open. Hmm ... hopefully book two makes up for the bizarre ending. Wonderful & thoughtful review! :)

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  12. You've certainly sold me, despite the failings, because I am all for slow books that develop their characters. I do worry about it not showing a solid connection between the girls, but I think I could overlook that if the book is good. :) I am very curious about this one now and will have to seek out a copy! :) Lovely review, Sarah!

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