May I begin my review by stating that I clearly have a recent obsession with historical fiction. It has come to my attention that my last few reviews have been about past generations and important events. I want to assure my readers that I do in fact read other books, it is merely a case that the books I am reading at the moment are coincidently historical fiction. Without further ado I wish to begin my review on my latest read, ‘The Fortune Hunter’ by Daisy Goodwin.
Having read a previous novel by Daisy Goodwin called ‘My last Duchess’ (or ‘The American Heiress’ as it is known in the USA), I had high expectations of this novel. Her previous one, although having a few minor issues, was altogether quite enjoyable and it is always nice when reading a novel, that you find yourself transported back in time, living amongst the characters. That is always a sign of a good book. However this was not the case with her latest novel.
‘The Fortune Hunter’ ultimately failed in capturing my attention. Instead of racing through a book in excitement to see how it ends, I found myself putting down this book a lot. Why is the big question. Well firstly the characters bothered me. When I read the blurb on the back of the book I had a completely different idea as to what the book was about. To me, it sounded as if this novel was about an Empress of Austria by the name of Sisi, who bored and miserable with the monotony of daily court life in Austria and apparently her husband Franz Joseph, comes to England in search of adventure and hunting. Sisi is described to us as an extremely beautiful reckless, intelligent and seductive. Of course her paths cross with that of Bay Middleton (the supposed hero of the novel) who is completely hypnotized by this dazzling Empress. Although the issue at hand, from the blurb, seems to be that he is engaged to a nice girl called Charlotte. However he can’t stay away from empress and so begins the novel. I would like to point out that this is not what happens in the story. Well it does to a point but let me explain what I mean.
The story is not from the point of view of the Empress (who actually was a real historical character). Instead the story is told firstly from the point of view of Charlotte Baird. Charlotte as a character is altogether quite boring. She is an heiress of a fortune, that includes the Lennox diamonds, which are mentioned numerous times in the novel. Unfortunately Charlotte can only access her fortune when she is married or when she has turned 25. In the meantime, her brother, the aggravating Fred, is her guardian and therefore manages her fortune until she is of age. However he is greatly influenced by his fiancée, the nosey, unbecoming Augusta, who only has eyes for Charlotte’s diamonds, and any concern she has for Charlotte seems to just revolve around these diamonds and how she wants to wear them for her wedding to Fred. Charlotte is described to us as not altogether that striking but her wealth makes her attractive. Charlotte also has a fascination for Photography, and throughout the novel seems to always, instead of facing problems, hides in her photography work as it seems it is much more interesting. It is not. So at this point I already dislike the novel as the main character of Charlotte is altogether quite bland. However we have yet to meet the other characters.
When we first meet Bay Middleton. It is apparent that he is something of a rake. Just fresh out of a relationship based on infidelity, with a woman who clearly just wanted babies, and once pregnant informs Bay to sling his hook. Again, I am incensed by this turn of events as already we have the apparent hero of the story already appearing to be unsuitable for such a role. I know realistically the heroes of the stories can’t always be perfect, and it seems to be normal across the board that the main male character always has to harbour a dark past, but this for me doesn’t cut it. Anyway moving on, Bay decides to go out to the opera to try and move on from the married woman. It is there that he spots Charlotte, and later indulges in what is supposed to be an intelligent flirting session, but it all comes across as quite forced. And so begins Bay’s courtship of Charlotte. To him her money isn’t important, even though all his friends are informing him of the magnitude of it all and regularly say things like ‘well at least she has a fortune’ as Charlotte again seems to offer nothing else. However Bay is of the opinion she is different from any other of the girls he has been with, which we all presume is quite a lot. He is amused by her fascination with photography and uses this as a way of wooing her. ‘Take photos of me Charlotte, take photos of my horse’ (as he is an avid hunting fan). Blah, blah, blah. Charlotte, although enthralled by Bay, keeps her cards close to her chest. She is continuously warned by her brother Fred and his scheming fiancée Augusta (their motive being to keep their hands on Charlotte’s fortune as long as they can) to stay away from Bay who is ‘unsuitable’. Charlotte to her credit, is strong willed in this instance, and doesn’t give in to Bay’s demands of ‘let’s elope’. She knows that if it is true love, then Bay should be willing to wait until she is of age and will inherit her fortune and marry Bay without Fred’s consent. Bay reluctantly agrees and all is well with the new lovers.
But as with all other novels, a problem must always arise. That problem arises in the form of the Empress of Austria, who coming to England to hunt requires someone to show her the ropes of the land she will be hunting on. This someone of course is our charming avid hunter, Bay Middleton. Bay throws a fuss about it all but secretly is infatuated by the Empress. I detest this storyline. I realise Charlotte isn’t exactly riveting in personality, but one can’t help but feel sorry for her as she is going up against the marvelling form of the Empress. She is naive about the whole affair and ignores the whispers of what really is going on between the Empress and Bay. Bay himself being the asshole that he is (excuse my language but he is infuriating), is torn between the two women in his life. On one page he is devoted to Charlotte and repeatedly informs her of this, but on the next page he is positively drooling over the Empress. Both women are blinded by his charm and blind side themselves as to what is actually going on.
Ugh. Must I go on any further. The story doesn’t exactly progress at all. Charlotte eventually begins to catch on and begins to take a stand, but in my opinion it is all too late. She has already shown herself to be a complete and utter ninny over sheepish and stupid Bay Middleton. There is one disastrous scene in the book that is so cringe worthy I’m not going to go into the details as I do not want to ruin how cringey it is for others, but need I say the urge to throw the book at the wall was quite a strong emotion. Even the enigmatic Empress is shown to be a complete needy, demanding. tantrum inducing old biddy towards the end. When we reach the final moment in the book, which is supposed to be a happy one, the reader is left feeling unmoved. It is all so anti climatic and would resemble a dog coming back with it’s tail between its legs as it knows it has done something wrong but does not know how to fix it.
The question is, was there anything in the book that saved it. To answer that I must honestly say no, not really. There is a certain interesting aspect in that of the portrayal of the Queen Victoria, who throughout the novel provides the reader with amusement, particularly in the gallery scene in the book. I was intrigued by her character for sure and her relationship with her bodyguard/companion or lover John Brown. Alas unfortunately the Queen doesn’t appear enough in the novel to save it as a whole.
Certainly if a reader is interested in the period of the late 1800s and the etiquette and mannerisms of the time, then this book could appeal to that type of reader. However I personally found the story to lack what other successful historical fiction novels have achieved. The romance in the novel is a disaster, the characters are altogether ridiculous and nothing in the plot flows just right.
However I wish to point out that I do not want to slander Daisy Goodwin as an author. She is quite talented in the world she creates in this story. Her previous work with ‘My Last Duchess’ is quite good so I would implore readers to give it a try before reading this novel. I am however of the opinion that Goodwin purposefully writes her male characters with more negative aspects than the usual writer would. Her books are always favouring the females and the male leads are always portrayed as being useless rakes who eventually try to win back their love interests. So I would be interested to see if anyone else had this impression upon reading her work. It is again not that I want the man and woman characters to live happily ever after like some Disney fairy tale, but I do wish that their coming together at the end of her novels, wasn’t so unromantic and a ‘you’ve made your bed now you have to live in it’ kind of ending.
So unfortunately I would not deem this novel one to be recommended, unless you have read the author’s first novel and wish to do a comparison with this story. As I have mentioned already, I would appreciate someone else’s view on the subject.
As always, I welcome your opinions and comments, and you can tweet me also @theavidreaders.
The Avid Reader 🙂