Author: Daisy Goodwin
Headline RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Love, duty and marriage come under the spotlight in The Fortune Hunter, an interesting and well-written historical novel set among the upper class hunting set in England. The role of women also plays a key role, with a number of characters breaking free from established roles, if only to a degree.

A clever love triangle is at the heart of the story, with Charlotte Baird, a wealthy and eligible heiress, Captain Bay Middleton, and Sisi, Empress of Austria the main players. At a house party, Charlotte catches the eye of Bay, who quickly declares his intention to marry her; she in turn is captivated by this dashing man. However, when Sisi joins the hunting party, Bay’s attentions shift towards the beautiful, older woman; their attraction is powerful and undeniable, an affair unavoidable, despite the fact that Sisi is already married. With everything to lose, Bay must choose between passion and duty, and someone will get hurt.

Doesn’t that make it sound dramatic? It’s actually more subtly written than my quick synopsis suggests. The Fortune Hunter is no bodice-ripper; rather, Goodwin gently guides the reader into the love triangle and the conflict/s that will impact on the characters’ future, implying, rather than describing, the passion that underscores the choices made. It’s well done. Bay’s indecisiveness (“What/who do I want?”), Sisi’s unhappiness with her life and her ageing body, and Charlotte’s determination to be defined by more than a man  comes across strongly and helps the reader feel the conflict. In the end, I didn’t want anyone to be hurt because, despite their flaws, I came to care for each character, particularly Charlotte and Sisi.

Not being a student of this historical period, I can’t comment on historical accuracy. What I can see, from my cursory cross-referencing post-reading, is that the story blends truth and fiction admirably; Charlotte, Bay and Sisi were all real people, Bay did pilot or guide Sisi when she visited England for several hunting seasons, and Charlotte and Bay were engaged. I won’t spoil the novel by adding more. Goodwin would have had less to work with when developing Charlotte’s character, as little is known about her; the result is a reserved but self-aware young woman with a talent in photography. She’s a product of her times, but also ahead of her times – in one case, she resists Bay’s entreaties to elope and keeps him at bay physically (no pun intended) and on the other, she makes plans to travel to America unchaperoned, knowing that this will scandalise the London ton and likely render her un-marriagable. Sisi, too, is a product of her times; a free spirit, she is reined in by the rules and etiquette of the Hapsburg Court, but in her own way, is ahead of her times.

The Fortune Hunter is an intriguing and satisfying read with strongly drawn characters and sprinklings of humour provided by lesser characters. I found it slow at first, but even so, I was propelled by the knowledge that the conflict would be big enough, exciting enough, to keep me turning pages (I also wanted to know how “Chicken” got his name but was left hanging on that count).  I’ll be looking for more fiction by Goodwin.

Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. My copy was courtesy of Hachette.

Bookish treat: It’s cold out and I think Countess Festetics would approve of a bowl of goulash soup.




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