To be honest, it took me a while to get into this book. I kept reading small bits and putting it away again. But at some point I've become well and truly hooked. The characters were charismatic and it was easy to empathise with them, and the action was fast paced and full of surprises. It is a fantasy book, so it does have some magic and weird beasts, but it is not too fantastic, if you know what I mean. In fact, I found it closer to steam-punk. Anyway, definitely enjoyed it.
#21 Friedrich Weissensteiner: Die rote Erzherzogin (The red Archduchess, German).
A biography of Archduchess Elisabeth, daughter of the Crown Prince Rudolf (of the Mayerling fame) and granddaughter of Empress Sissi and Emperor Franz-Josef. Since I've read biographies of Rudolf and Sissi, and have spent some time in and around Vienna, where I've found this book, I decided it would be an interesting read. And so it was. However, even the author apparently admits his inability to make his heroine sympathetic. Yes, she broke her links with high aristocracy by marrying well below her rank and then compounded 'the sin' further by divorcing and marrying a commoner and a leading member of a socialist party. And yet, all her life, she remained, essentially a rich and priviledged member of the nobility, who had no real idea of money and who could be extremely rude and impatient with her house help, even going so far as to use a riding crop on them. She set her sights on whatever she wanted and went for it, but it remains to be argued whether such stubborness and foolhardiness are worth admiration. She spent her last years alone (although, of course, the house still had a few servants), with only her German shepherds for company. Since she could find nobody to entrust her pets to, she commanded the dogs to be killed after her death. In a way it makes sense, since they were trained as guard dogs and would bite even people familiar to them (but, naturally, never their mistress), but it adds somehow a rather gruesome tint to everything. I was reminded of ancient kings, who would be buried along with their entire households. Sheakespeare would probably come up with a moral (and mysogynistic) tale about it all, but life is never straightforwardly simple.