Cover Image: Empty Theatre: A Novel

Empty Theatre: A Novel

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This funny book features King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria. I confess I knew nothing about them before reading this book. The action is very dramatic and amusing. I greatly enjoyed this book. I found myself doing research on the two main characters to learn more. Ultimately, (I discovered) that this is deifnitely fiction but highly enjoyable fiction.

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Empty Theatre is a book about cousins King Ludwig II of Bavaria (Mad King Ludwig) and Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi). Both were eccentric (to put it mildly) rulers in their own rights. When I went to Austria for the first time a couple of years ago, I kept seeing Sisi's image everywhere and wondered who she was. Since then, I have read several books about her life. I also went to Neuschwanstein Castle and learned a little about Ludwig. I thought that this book had an interesting premise of considering both rulers' quest to attain beauty throughout their lives and was excited to read it!

Sisi and Ludwig individually did enough wild things throughout their lives to easily carry a book. This was the fourth book that I've read about Sisi, so I was familiar enough with her life. I was less familiar with Ludwig and enjoyed reading his parts of the book. Both individuals were firmly in the "morally gray" category and treated many people terribly throughout the novel, although accurate to history. It brought home to me just how callous these two could be with their family and subjects. I did like the idea of comparing the two in terms of their devotion to beauty. However, I felt that this book was much more of a brief-ish biography of both than a novel or a commentary on beauty. Which leads me to my next point...

This book reminded me of a Wikipedia article with dialogue inserted. While that is not a bad thing (when I first saw Sisi's image in Austria I went straight to Wikipedia to learn more about her), I didn't think that the focus on beauty was strong enough to bring it out of general biography territory. Empty Theatre is a novel, but the only thing that was really fictional was the dialogue and some details. I think that this is a good book to introduce new readers to the craziness of Sisi and Ludwig, but for people with more background, I didn't feel like enough focus was added to warrant a read.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. If you are a Sisi and Ludwig aficionado, proceed with caution. If not, you should have a good time learning about these two. They were certainly something! 3 stars from me. Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for the electronic advanced reader's copy in exchange for my honest review!

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First - A++ to the title for sheer length. This is a satirical retelling of the lives of Ludwig II of Bavaria and the empress Sisi of Austria, who were cousins, and the parallel, depressing turns their lives took. The stories are fairly ridiculous and over the top, but it's still amazing to watch unfold, especially with some of the details that Jemc adds as an undercurrent to Ludwig and Sisi's lives. I also have something of an in on this subject as I was introduced to the Austrian musical Elisabeth (in which she and Death are in a life long flirtation/affair) in college, so it's incredibly interesting to see how Jemc deals with the historical facts on her end. This also has me interested in anything else she may have written so A++ for that alone. Definitely worth a read.

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Thank you NetGalley, Jac Jemc, and MCD for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This book focuses on King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria. I’ve always been a big fan of Sisi and that’s a big reason of why I picked this book up. This is a great historical fiction book that is a satirical retelling of their lives. They’ve both had tragic lives, but this book presents them in a different way. It’s funny, sad, and entertaining. I recommend it!

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This was a funny reimagined the lives of King Ludwig II and Empress Sisi. Many theatrics were over the top. I found them to be both funny and tragic. I recommend this for fans of The Royals!

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King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria are both historical figures I did not know much about before reading/listing to this novel. The satirical take on these historical figures made learning about them much more enjoyable and fascinating than just researching them. It's an interesting way to get into an era. like Hamilton, Six, and Reign, it provides a great stepping stone for, long as you remember to take it all with a grain of salt. It's such a light-hearted perspective on a time period that is considerably darker.
I ended up reading along to the audiobook. The passing of the book was perfect for me but without the voices, it became very dull to read, and listing became confusing with the many, MANY characters. The two parallel stories do make it harder to follow along than just one would have, but they are so intertwined and share similar themes, that removing one would have removed the other.
Thanks to the author and publisher for providing a free ARC copy of the audiobook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Really good historical fiction. The tone and subject matter (spending all of our time with historical figures, with no noticeable fictional characters) is reminiscent of a much-less-meta <i>HHhH</i>, smooth and not stodgy without straying into sounding too modern. I knew a little bit about "Mad King Ludwig" going in but had no knowledge whatsoever about Empress Elisabeth of Austria (a.k.a. Sisi), and it wasn't clear to me what was going to be the narrative thread linking the two; it's still not entirely clear, to be honest, aside from familial ties, as both lived relatively unconnected lives -- or, at least, the parts of their lives that are most interesting are those that have little or nothing to do with each other -- but both are such fascinating figures that one doesn't really care that the two storylines are somewhat divorced. Empress Elisabeth in particular is someone I'm astounded I hadn't run across before, with as many incredible moments as her biography holds, which made this book a treat. One downside, though, of telling the two stories in an intertwined way is that [historical spoiler]Ludwig II died more than 10 years before Elisabeth[/historical spoiler], so the last chunk of Sisi's life is sped through in a chapter or two in a slightly unsatisfactory fashion.

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This was a surprisingly fun (almost light-hearted?) read given the heavy material of the lives of the two infamously tragic royals this historical fiction novel is about.

This novel comprises pretty short chapters that act as more-or-less chronological vignettes from the lives of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (better known as Sisi) and her cousin, King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Sisi and Ludwig are both deeply unhappy people constantly searching for some illusive cure that will finally make them satisfied with their confining yet exalted lives and do a lot of self-sabotaging along the way. Jemc manages to walk a fine line between making them sympathetic and being honest about their character flaws. A lot of the humor comes from the ridiculous deeds or beliefs of the two main characters. I felt like I was laughing at them some of the time, but I felt sympathetic towards their unhappiness too.

I ended up reading the Wikipedia articles about these two (& a bunch of other characters in the novel) while I was reading this book and I was impressed with how much of the more outrageous details actually came from real life. I wasn’t super familiar with the particulars of Sisi and Ludwig’s lives, but I got the impression that Jemc probably did a lot of research for this novel.

I received an ARC from NetGalley.

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In Empty Theatre, Jac Jemc has woven a thorough story through vignettes spanning years. Part historical novel, part social satire, Jemc illuminates the rotten core of royalty, one that is uncannily similar to the reigns of celebrities and politicians today.

Focused mainly on royal cousins Ludwig and Elizabeth, I enjoyed how Jemc toes the line of showing their ignorance and privilege, while also highlighting their opposition to the roles they are forced into. Their subversion to the constraints of royalty causes friction in their relationships and selfhood, and makes the novel feel both of another time, yet also like a fun historical reality tv show. In that way, I appreciate the timeliness of Jemc’s story — that characters that seem so unconnected from modern life are straining in the same ways we are and become strangle relatable.

I think the book started off strongly with the omniscient narrator foreshadowing (or downright spoiling) the ending — I liked the sense of it being a theatre, a comedy, a satire, as we laugh and gasp at their errors. However, in the middle chunk of the book this voice really falls away, and I think it would have benefitted to keep that throughout, especially with the sense of “theatre”.

I am also biased against long books, and do think it could have been narrowed down and given the same effect, but the ending still paid off.

Overall, a really unique book!

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This was an interesting juxtaposition of cousins, Empress Elisabeth of Austria and King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Though both have gone down in history for some of their eccentricities, such as King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein Castle, which was the inspiration for the Disney castle, and Empress Elisabeth's stringent skincare routine. The cousins both shared similar melancholic temperaments due to the constraints that royalty dealt them. Ludwig was a spoiled, coddled child who repressed his sexual orientation due to social constructs. Sisi, as she was know to her family and friends, grew up free in the Bavarian countryside and was not meant to be Empress. Franz fell in love with her and that was how she ended up in the role that her sister had been groomed to take. Sisi was not ready for the pressure of the position nor the influence of her mother-in-law. She was not allowed to raise her children and struggled with eating disorder throughout her whole life at court. Eventually both met untimely deaths in unusual circumstances. Sisi murdered by an anarchist and Ludwig drowning in a lake after an attempt to depose him for not being fit to rule. They spent their lives searching for approval while commiserating in the similar issues that they faced.

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Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux and Jac Jemc for this wonderfully riveting novel/ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I first became interested in Ludwig II in the early 70’s after watching a film by Luchino Visconti. After visiting several of his castles in Germany a decade later, I was entranced by their magnificence and the life of this “Fairy Tale King’.
‘Empty Theatre’ visits a world steeped in melancholy, privilege, eccentricity, obsession, homosexuality, politics and war.
Ludwig, posed to lead his country from the age of 18 has no interest in the European wars that surround him. He is engulfed by the music of Richard Wagner, a deep passion for romanticism and building his castles (some never completed).
With pressure to produce an heir, (although homosexual) he becomes engaged for a very short time to his cousin, Duchess Sophie of Bavaria and claims to her “the main basis of our interchange, as you will confirm, has been the remarkable, sweeping destiny of R. Wagner”.
The author brilliantly deals with the trials and tribulations, dreams and disappointments of this bygone era. Their lives aesthetically rich but empty as the theatre in its title.

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing this eARC.

Empty Theatre offers a satirical, fictional retelling of the tragic lives of cousins King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Elizabeth "Sisi" of Austria.

Empty Theatre tells Ludwig and Sisi's stories in a series of vignettes, a choice that gives the book a heightened pace for basically the entire time. Often beats of excess or humor are immediately met with moments of anger or sorrow, which also makes for an emotional roller coaster of a read.

In all, I thought that Empty Theatre was interesting, and certainly unique, and definitely all-around entertaining. It's the kind of literary historical fiction that makes you understand the spectacular appeal of historical fiction.

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Top notch! Fabulous!
I simply devoured this really incredible novel!

The tumultuous lives of Elizabeth of Austria and her cousin Ludwig II of Baviera narrated with lots of empathy and passion!
A marvellous fictional tapestry full of heartbreaking sorrows, gorgeous pageantry, witty humor and deep sadness. A marvellous literary treat!

It was simply unputdownable and it will probably rank among the best novels of 2023!

Highly recommended and to be enjoyed without any moderation whatsoever!

Many thanks to FSG and Netgalley for this terrific ARC!

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OMG… OMG!!! I freaking inhaled this book! This book is about cousins sissy an empress and Ludwig the King of Germany. This book is very hilarious but it also has very touching moments in it. Like when Ludwigs found out his dad died and he went to a nearby peasant house and ate dinner with the family and cried to them but his dad even though they didn’t know him and then they told him how to play a game and he felt bad that he missed out on all of that because he was the son of the king. As adults the two cousins reacquainted theirselves with each other and found confidants in each other, because Ludwig had a big secret… They called him the “spinster maker“ and he logged theater and now I’m not trying to stereotype Ludwigs but if the royal crown fits… Poor sissy had no say over her children and even though her youngest boy who is being abused by the tutor her husband refused to let him go because his mom (Who is the quintessential royal bitch!) would automatically take over her children as soon as they were born and what she had a son she basically told her your job is done thanks for your service doodles… That was early days it seems the longer they were around the crazier things got. I love this book I started reading it late last night and stayed up all night something I haven’t done since I was a teenager just so I could finish this book it was so funny and so good! It’s books like these that make me wish I had a blog or a mountain I could scream at the top of my READ EMPTY THEATER!!! I love funny books but this book is funny and smart. Although it is fictional A lot of the things in the book are true like Ludwig started building all kinds of castles and never finished them and Sissy would sneak out in the middle of the night to go ride horses just FYI that’s all she got through sex with her husband she just pretended like he was a horse and she was riding him… I am not joking! I freaking love the sport! I received it from NetGalley the publisher but I am leaving this review voluntarily please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review. I freaking love this book!

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I would like to thank Farrar, Straus and Giroux, as well as Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book as an ARC. This is an extremely interesting piece of historical fiction. It is the highly fictionalized, satiric version of the lives of Ludwig of Bavaria( Mad Ludwig) and the Empress Elizabeth of Austria( Sisi as she was known). It is by turns, funny, tragic, silly, and heartbreaking. I have read some of the lives of Ludwig and Elizabeth( and visited Ludwig's castles), but this was a book a couldn't put down. It reads like a soap opera at times, and I mean it in a good way. It paints a picture of people with extreme wealth and power, who prove that money can't buy happiness. It is a richly written, interwoven tale. I highly recommend it.

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Every once in a while I come across a book that manages to successfully tell a story that is somehow completely bonkers yet also makes perfect sense. I always want to ask the author, how on earth did you come up with this? And I find myself wondering just that now. How did Jac Jemc dream up the idea to imagine this wonderfully hilarious yet heartbreaking story based on the lives of Empress Sisi and Ludwig II?

The best Historical Fiction, in my opinion, is that which reimagines the truth in a way that both enhances it as a story and also does better justice to its principal subjects than perhaps they received in real life.

Though the tone is upbeat and the pacing excellent, the story is a tough read at times (and I mean this in a good way) because it so profoundly captures the spirit of loneliness. That the subjects are royalty makes them no less relatable in this regard, and while the rest of us can’t say we were in a one-sided friendship with Richard Wagner and a literal prisoner of our own fantasy inside a fairy tale castle like Ludwig, we all know what a sense of emotional isolation can do to the mind.

Jemc did a terrific job of taking the facts of both Ludwig’s and Sisi’s lives and weaving them into a tale that brings them to life in a manner that, in a way, they weren’t permitted in their actual existence.

Between its sharp, clever wit and its fantastical, rich storytelling, I imagine both Sisi and Ludwig would have loved this book. I did too.

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Empty Theatre is a reimagining of the utterly bonkers lives and tragic deaths of iconic weirdos King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) of Austria. I was familiar with the basics of their histories from listening to a few episodes of the Noble Blood podcast, but Jemc's expansion on the stories really brought these two to (fictional) life. They both enjoyed the material benefits provided by the excessive wealth and extravagances of their royal positions but suffered mental illness and misery in their personal relationships, with bonus challenges caused by (among other things) closeted homosexuality for Ludwig and a mother-in-law from hell for Sisi.

I loved the format of the book: short vignettes from each of their lives showing how they were connected and yet both still so horribly lonely. I think it's interesting (and frustrating) reading about people who should "have everything" but cannot find their way to contentment or happiness.

This was a fabulously-written book about two eccentric characters living fascinating, unconventional lives. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!

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Empty Theatre held me sway for many different reasons. My special interest in King Ludwig II of Bavaria piqued when researching his castles for a visit to Germany. After a deep dive into his history in situ, the mystique enveloped me like a thick mist. I was hooked, especially after learning about his cousin Sisi, empress of Austria and visiting palaces and castles there. How fascinating it would be to sit down for a chat with both and discover the inner workings of their minds. If one could obtain an audience with reclusive Ludwig first, that is.

King Ludwig's innovations were not only quirky but incredibly practical and ahead of their time (lighting in his grotto, pulleys for disappearing tables). Though often misunderstood, his mind was brilliant. Both he and Sisi sought beauty and drama in their own worlds as they were restricted as royals. Ludwig's obsession with Wagner, his eccentricities and quirks and demanding the best of the best meant ostracization, not to mention bankruptcy of an entire country. Sisi wasn't cut out for royal life, either.

This engaging and engrossing reimagining is striking, memorable and sometimes over the top but I enjoyed it for what it was. Though familiar with the history, taking a look from new perspectives is refreshing! Alternating short chapters are told from two perspectives, those of Ludwig and Sisi. Author Jac Jemc did a gorgeous job of comparing and contrasting. Both royal and vain, they also made their dream-like galaxies reality. The author starts the novel when they are children and follows them as they grow into teenagers when Sisi marries Franzl and Ludwig becomes King and finally as adults. The ending is clever, too, and adds yet more layers to the mystery surrounding Ludwig's death at forty. I like where the author takes her readers, in and out of the realm of possibility.

Historical Fiction readers but especially those with an interest in cousins Empress Sisi and King Ludwig II ought to enjoy the wit and satire while learning more about historical bits.

My sincere thank you to Farrar, Strauss and Giroux and NetGalley for providing me with an early digital copy of this crazily addictive book.

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This book is a fictionalized account of the lives of Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, and Elizabeth, Empress of Austria. Like most European royalty in the nineteenth century, their lives are intertwined and full of tragedies. Ludwig and Sisi are cousins, both loathsome of their royal duties but taking full advantage of the luxuries their positions afford them. Often vain, cruel, and cold to those around them, this book offers a glimpse into the more tender motivations and inner workings of two beloved monarchs.

Oh, this book. I loved it. It's quirky and wry and heartbreaking all at once. Sisi is one of my favorite historical figures, so much of the content here was not new to me. The format, though, is exquisite — brisk vignettes into the lives of Sisi and Ludwig, often ridiculous but sometimes overwhelmingly affecting. I don't think this unconventional narrative structure will be for everyone; you can't go into this book expecting a rising action, climax, and resolution. But it works beautifully for me, an irregular style to match that of its characters.

I found Ludwig's ending to be particularly interesting. One of my favorite things about historical fiction is the ability to re-imagine events in a way that makes the reader think, "hmm, maybe it did happen like that," which Jac Jemc does beautifully. Sisi's ending also left me bereft; not her death specifically, but the family gathering afterwards. Just such lovely writing!

Huge thank you to Jac Jemc, MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this ARC!

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This was not what I was expecting based on the description. I was expecting more integrated story from the start, but a lot of it was very history based of what happened instead of more story.

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