Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Fortune Hunter: A Novel

Title:  The Fortune Hunter: A Novel
Author:  Daisy Goodwin
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2014. 480 pages.
ISBN:  1250043891 / 978-1250043894

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Ah, but you are young and we all have great opinions when we are young. I think when you are a little older you will see things differently."

Elizabeth or "Sisi", Empress of Austria, was considered one of the beauties of Europe in the nineteenth century. Married at the young age of sixteen, she often looked to escape from her duties at court. She travelled extensively in the pursuit of her passions, riding and hunting.

The "fortune hunter" is Bay Middleton - Captain William George "Bay" Middleton. He did not come from money, but earned his way into society as an officer and as one of the best riders of time.

Charlotte Baird is the young heiress about whom little is known except for her relationship with Bay Middleton. In the book, she is characterized as forward thinking and more emancipated than many women of her times. Her fortune perhaps allows her this luxury and the luxury of pursuing her interest in photography - unusual for this time and place.

This book touches on the brief period in history when the lives of these three individuals intersect. Bay meets Charlotte through her brother Fred during the London "season". He knows that she is the heiress to a large fortune. He is intrigued by her personality. His motives, of course, are questioned, "Would she be quite so sweet if she didn't have sixty thousand a year? Hard to tell. Man like you is bound to fall for the rich ones."

The arrival of the Empress Sisi becomes the talk of the town. Sisi hears about Bay's skills as a horseman and asks for him to be her pilot (guide) during the hunting season. He cannot say no. The relationship develops into much more. Rumors and scandals abound, putting Bay's relationship with Charlotte into jeopardy. A relationship will a young, eligible heiress may have a future. A relationship with an already married Empress has none. What choice will be made? The intrigue surrounding these relationships is the crux of this book.

I love historical fiction for it often introduces me to history I don't know and little known history that may show up in the textbooks or other narratives only as a footnote. I love how fiction can sometimes bring a history to life by grounding it to a more personal story. This book unfortunately, is more romance than history. It is about the triangle between these three people. That focus makes it not the book for me.

Based on a little research, I also knew how the story ended before I read the book. The decisions made by Charlotte Baird to me conflict with her characterization as a strong, independent young woman. The attitudes presented in the book perhaps reflect the way of thinking at the time:
  • "He may well want to marry you, why wouldn't he? You are clever, lovely and extremely rich, but you are not the only woman in his life."
  • "It takes time to make the right match."
  • "Way I see it, you dance to the Empress's tune until she gets tired of you, which she will one day. And then you go back to Charlotte Baird and ask her if she will still have you. My guess is that once she has got over her missishness, she will come around alright. Women like a man who is in demand."
While that thinking may reflect the time period, the book portrays Charlotte Baird throughout as a young woman who makes her own choices. She pursues photography, a little known art form at the time and an even less acceptable past time for women. Her fortune allows her independence and the ability to speak her mind. She asserts both rights. Thus, her decisions in her relationship with Bay Middleton seem jarring in context. So, while her choice is the one that history tells us was made, it is unpalatable for me in the story of the romance. That too makes this not the book for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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