I really enjoyed Daisy Goodwin’s first novel, My Last Duchess, more for its Downton prequel leanings that literary merit I have to admit, but as a historical romance it was a cracking read.
The Fortune Hunter, again set in the Victorian era, this time the mid-1870s, when the aristocracy was still going very strong indeed, this is another romp of love, hunting and posh people, that fans of Julia Quinn should snap up.
The Fortune Hunter is Bay Middleton, the best horse rider in the Kingdom, who is charged by his Commanding Officer to be the pilot of the Empress of Austria during her stay in the shires for the various great Hunts. This basically means riding alongside her, making sure she doesn’t get lost or break her neck. Fortunately (or not) for Bay, the Empress Sisi is stunningly beautiful, and very much looking for a bit of fun that doesn’t necessarily involve a horse.
At the same time, Bay must maintain his relationship with the book’s real heroine, Charlotte, a wealthy heiress who just wants to be left alone with her photography equipment. Everyone presumes Bay is after Charlotte’s money, but is he really the Fortune Hunter of the title, or a good-looking man dragged into a mess by his betters who just wants to do the right thing.
This book is just on the right side of silly to be a fantastic read for fans of historical romance, especially since it is (rather loosely) based on real characters-Bay was the pilot and reported lover of the Empress of Austria, and he did marry a rich heiress. What is more fascinating is the life of the Empress herself, she was a noted beauty who brought about the dual monarchy of Austria and Hungary, who lost her son Rudolf when he was found dead with his mistress in a murder-suicide pact, and was later stabbed to death herself. I am now on the look out for a biography of this woman, and more details about her life. The best parts of this book, as so often with historical fiction, were the little snippets of facts about the everyday which sound utterly disgusting to the modern reader-strapping raw veal to your skin at night to maintain a youthful glow, for example.
The main plot jollies along quite nicely, and it was a rare treat to have a decently written romance told (partly) from the hero’s POV, Bay is the best character in the book and one can almost sympathise with his plight. It is set in that strange period of British history when we weren’t at Massive War with anyone, yet army soldiers still have that social standing of being gentlemen, but not quite. Bay’s plight of having to do what he is told jars slightly with his seemingly unlimited funds (where does he get the money for all the hotels he stays in, and, more practically, who looks after his dress uniform, which apparently materializes from nowhere whenever he requires it. I know from reading Lucy Lethbridge’s book on Servants that maintaining the clothes needed for hunting and riding and all the balls and dinners was a massive massive job, but Bay just seems to wander around without seriously thinking about the logistics of it).
Yes, the book is a very one-sided privileged view of the Victorian era-and animal lovers might be a little upset by the descriptions of the Grand National and the hunting, but as a book about rich people and their world, it fits, and it is fun.