“Diana was of course named after the goddess of the hunt; Sisi was a hunter in her own right, and a formidable horsewoman. She came to England in 1875/76 to ride with hunts here and this is the crucible of Goodwin’s novel.”
If you like your historical romantic fiction – and for many, it is almost an addiction – Daisy Goodwin is a godsend. She really knows how to write it, toying with the reader’s desire for a happy ending by constructing a series of bluffs, dead-ends and kinks in the path leading to true love.
The Fortune Hunter is about real people who actually lived 150 years ago. At the story’s heart is Sisi, Empress of Austria and thought to be the most beautiful woman in nineteenth-century Europe. She was very much a Princess Diana for her times; unhappily married (to the Emperor Franz Josef); bored rigid by stuffy court protocol, and fully aware of the devastating effect she had upon men.
Diana was of course named after the goddess of the hunt; Sisi was a hunter in her own right, and a formidable horsewoman. She came to England in 1875/76 to ride with hunts here and this is the crucible of Goodwin’s novel. The Empress was assigned a ‘pilot’; an experienced rider who could guide her safely over hedges and fences in the field. The man chosen for the job was intensely good-looking and a superb horseman – ‘Bay’ Middleton (he got his nickname from a famous Derby winner) a dashing young army officer at least ten years younger than the beautiful Sisi.
Of course, Bay realised he had everything to lose if he fell for Sisi – career, reputation, and not least the love of Charlotte, the beautiful heiress he was already promised to.
What gives the story its punch is that it is based on real people and (mostly) real events. Clearly it’s very much a woman’s novel, but nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“All the characters are good fun. Charlotte, Bay’s intended, is a really strong, gutsy young woman. She will one day inherit the famous Lennox diamonds, a fabulous collection of jewellery left to her in trust by her late mother.”
Sisi certainly worked at being beautiful. At bedtime her ankle-length hair was suspended in two long ropes from the ceiling, and her choice of facemask was bizarre, to say the least. Slices of raw veal were placed over her cheeks and forehead and held in place by a leather mask, which failed to prevent the veal juices running down her neck and onto the sheets. Makes a jar of cold cream and a pack of wet-wipes look distinctly limite.
All the characters are good fun. Charlotte, Bay’s intended, is a really strong, gutsy young woman. She will one day inherit the famous Lennox diamonds, a fabulous collection of jewellery left to her in trust by her late mother. Bay, who meets and falls for Charlotte at the Empress’s first hunting weekend on the family estate, tells her his officer’s pay will be inadequate considering Charlotte’s great wealth, but she’s a no-nonsense girl and won’t have any of it.
She’s also an amateur photographer – a nice invention of Goodwin’s which adds to Charlotte’s air of modernity. (Although when Bay steals a kiss from her one evening, she takes it as a proposal of marriage – which indeed it is, by the mores of the day).
But the impossibly glamorous and desirable Empress would turn any man’s head. Will Bay succumb to temptation?
You’ll thoroughly enjoy finding out.
Here are a selection of the reviews for The Fortune Hunter
“Public Service Announcement… this gorgeous novel is the perfect storm of escapism, suspense, romance and superb historical research.”
The Times, UK
“One of the most compelling and entertaining historical novels I’ve ever read… The Fortune Hunter will sweep you away.”
Liz Smith, The Boston Herald