About the Book

Title: Elisabeth: The Princess Bride, Austria-Hungary, 1853 (The Royal Diaries #14)
Published: 2003

Cover Story: The Horse and His Girl
BFF Charm: Maybe
Swoonworthy Scale: 0*
Talky Talk: Breezy
Relationship Status: Unsatisfying First Date

The Official FYA Royal Diaries Drinking Game

Take a sip when:

  • There is talk of a betrothal
  • The protagonist references the diary concept (i.e. apologizes for not writing often enough, has to find a hiding place for the diary, explains why she’s writing in it to begin with, etc.)
  • The protagonist wonders what it would be like to be a “normal girl”
  • There’s a ball
  • Somebody is poisoned or strangled or in some other way Ye Olde Murdered
  • You wish you were a princess

Take two sips when:

  • The protagonist becomes betrothed (for realsies)
  • It’s the protagonist’s birthday (or culturally equivalent celebration)
  • Obvious historical foreshadowing
  • You’re really glad you’re NOT a princess

Take a shot when:

  • The protagonist gets hitched
  • Another Royal Diarist is mentioned

Cover Story: The Horse and His Girl

As is typical for the Royal Diaries series, the illustrator got all the technical details right—Elisabeth does love to ride, and the resemblance isn’t bad. I just can’t figure out for the world why she looks so PO’d. Elisabeth goes through a lot of emotions, but I can’t recall her ever being pinched and annoyed as she looks here. Especially not when riding her beloved horse, Punch.

The Deal:

Born the daughter of a minor Bavarian duke, fifteen-year-old Elisabeth (Sisi for short) enjoys the most carefree existence imaginable. She lives in a beautiful castle and spends her days riding, collecting wildflowers, writing in her diary, and playing with her younger siblings. Her older sister Helene (Néné for short), on the other hand , is busy being groomed to marry Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and become an Empress. But when Sisi, Néné, and their mother travel to Austria to finalize the engagement, the 23-year-old emperor takes one look at Sisi and decides he likes her better. You know how it goes—never the bridesmaid, always the bride. Sisi’s happy-go-lucky lifestyle quickly melts away as she finds herself dealing with a tempestuous love affair, a sister who may hate her, and the responsibility of an entire Empire.

BFF Charm: Maybe

BFF charm with a :-| face

I really like Sisi. She’s fun and friendly, spirited and passionate, creative and adventurous—if the Royal Diaries series were a high school yearbook, Sisi would be voted most. On the other hand, that whole “passionate” thing means Sisi tends to fall into and out of intense love at the drop of a hat. She can also be pretty naively romantic (re: marrying a guy she barely knows) and self-centered (re: that guy being kinda-sorta her sister’s ex). Basically, girl has a ton of dramz in her life. Frankly, what I suspect Sisi needs is a Sassy Gay Friend to tell her to look at her life and her choices:

"Sassy Gay Best Friend" guy, wearing an orange scarf
“What are you doing? What what WHAT are you doing? Look at your life. Look at your choices.”

I just don’t know if I’m ready for the responsibility of being that friend. I’d rather be a vicarious sort of friend: Sisi would tell me all about her insane love love and extreme fame and the crazy parties she attends, and I’d jealously ooh and ahh, and then I’d go home to watch Netflix in bed, secretly relieved that my life is so boring in comparison. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

I went all over the place with this rating, at one point screaming out “The limit does not exist!” until that dredged up memories of high school math class and I had to take a 30-minute break. This zero does not represent there being no romance in this book. Romance is all over this book. But instead of making me swoon, the Sisi/Franz Joseph relationship left me feeling more and more uncomfortable, so that by the end I was really hoping a Man in Black would show up to kidnap Sisi and spirit her away from Florin Vienna*.

When the Emperor and Sisi meet, they immediately fall in Instalove. They’re first cousins, but, you know: different times. He’s 23-going-on-24 and she’s 15, but: different times? Sorry, but no matter what Pretty Little Liars has been trying to sell for the past four years, that’s never not going to creep me out to some extent. And I think Barry Denenberg means for their relationship to play a little unsettling. A younger reader (or a swoon-prone older reader!) may get swept away in the initial fantasy of a charming, handsome prince picking his Twu Wuv out from the crowd and declaring his deep and ardent feelings for her. But as the book goes on, Sisi rollercoasters between head-over-heels and pervasive doubts—over whether she really knows the man she’s marrying at all, whether she’s even a little suited to the role of Empress, whether she’s prepared for marriage in the slightest (having no real idea of what “marriage” entails). I think Denenberg does a good job of peeling back the curtain on the “fairytale romance” and revealing it for what it really is: not so much romantic as frightening. I just wish Sisi saw that too.

So think of the score as representing a slow slide from positive swoon ratings to negative numbers, and the “0” as capturing an average somewhere within those extremes.

*You have no idea how much restraint I had to exercise to limit the number of The Princess Bride references in this review. The weirdest part is that Sisi isn’t a princess—she goes from being a duchess to an empress, so there’s not even a very good excuse for this book’s subtitle, which makes me think the publisher loves The Princess Bride as much as I do.

Talky Talk: Breezy

The last Royal Diaries book I reviewed was the longest of the bunch. Elisabeth is almost the exact opposite, with the main story (discounting the standard educational epilogue) coming in at under 100 pages. This is particularly perplexing when you consider that the former princess’ life is so poorly documented we don’t even know her name, while Elisabeth’s every move was reported in the mid-19th century equivalent of the gossip pages.

To some extent, the book’s brevity may be on purpose. From the moment the Emperor declares his intentions toward her, Sisi gets swept up in a never-ending whirlwind of change she barely has time to process. While there may be some value to destabilizing the reader in the same way, there were so many moments throughout this book that I wished had more space to breathe. I wanted to learn more details about Sisi’s life in Bavaria, her relationship with various family members (particularly her older sister), even the specifics of the Empress-training she gets put through. I wanted to see conversations and events play out, rather than reading Sisi’s three-sentence recap after the fact. I wanted just a single line of dialogue from her future husband (although, again: maybe him not speaking was the point?). Honestly, the book was so short I couldn’t even think of any significant bonus factors. And I love bonus factors.

Relationship Status: Unsatisfying First Date

I met this book online (read: Amazon), and I anticipated our first date for months. I knew very little about it, but what I did know—mid-19th century European royalty—had me really excited. Maybe my expectations were built up too high, but when we finally went on that date, I couldn’t help feeling let down. This book seemed like it had a ton of interesting stuff to share, but our date was over and done with before we had even the slightest chance to get to know each other. On paper, this book looks great, but if I can’t get it to talk to me, I don’t see our relationship progressing very far. If this book calls me up for a second date, I’ll go—but I’m not making that move myself.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Elisabeth: The Princess Bride has been available for years, y’all. So get on that.

About the Contributor:

Maria Greer is originally from Montana but goes to school in the Bay Area, where she totally fails to take advantage of the tech industry. Instead, she is majoring in history and creative writing, with which she plans to do…something. Currently her hope is that someone will come along and offer to pay her to read YA novels and eat cupcakes. Until that day, Maria spends most of her time studying and petitioning the university to let her keep a cat in her dorm.

This post was written by a guest writer or former contributor for Forever Young Adult.