It’s time for another Book Addiction post, where I share a historical novel I recently read and couldn’t put down, so that someone else might discover it, too. This month is The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin.
One of the things I loved most about The Fortune Hunter is that it made me feel much empathy for each character, even when their interests conflicted. The story centres around Bay Middleton, an expert horseman who loves racing and hunting, and is also a bit of a scandalous ladies’ man. Charming and flawed, he’s exactly the kind of romantic hero you hope will find redemption by the end of the story, and he’s also the most attractive hero with a mustache that I can think of. Due to his reputation for horsemanship, Bay is selected to be Empress Elisabeth’s pilot for the fox hunts while she is visiting England. The Empress, known as Sisi to her friends, is also an extremely skilled rider. The bond that grows between them threatens Bay’s recent engagement to Charlotte Baird, a practical young heiress with a flair for photography.
I found Sisi to be a fascinating character. Famed for her beauty, she also fears its wane as she ages, and undertakes some extreme measures to preserve her looks, such as occasionally sleeping with raw veal on her face to soften her skin. I have to say, there’s no way I would ever be motivated enough to do that. And she slept thusly with her wolfhounds in the room, necessitating the use of a leather mask to keep them from getting the veal. That’s dedication! Her ankle length hair was also so thick and heavy that she sometimes had to tie it in two ropes to the ceiling in order to relieve the pressure from her scalp. Sisi stopped allowing photographs to be taken of her, fearing that people would scrutinize them for signs of age diminishing her beauty, but every existing image of her really showcases just how long her hair must have been.
Sisi finds so much happiness in Bay’s company that I often felt myself feeling torn, because ultimately I wanted Bay and Charlotte to marry. I won’t give any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that this is a bittersweet, moving love triangle, full of tension but not melodrama.
I enjoyed Charlotte’s interest in photography, which was a relatively new technology for the time period. Her photographs are an excellent lens through which to view the setting and the minute interactions between the characters.
Queen Victoria makes a couple of brilliant cameos, as well. Her voice is so clear that you’ll swear there’s a snobby English lady over enunciating everything right inside your brain. I suppose that doesn’t really sound like a compliment if taken literally, but it is for reading. Goodwin has written two other books as well, The American Heiress and Victoria, both of which are now going on my to-read list. Victoria is actually the most recent of her books (I’m a little late discovering this treasure trove of excellent historical fiction) and Goodwin is also involved in the television series of Victoria, which is also now on my To-Watch list. I’m going to be – happily – busy!
From the book jacket:
Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a horse.
Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to win the Grand National—until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared passion for riding leads to an infatuation that jeopardizes the growing bond between Bay and Charlotte, and threatens all of their futures.
The Fortune Hunter, a brilliant new novel by Daisy Goodwin, is a lush, irresistible story of the public lives and private longings of grand historical figures.