I think a lot about where my various obsessions come from. Who gifted them to me, as it were.
So many of them came from my dad. Star Wars and fantasy and guitar music. Others from friends, comics and Doctor Who and YA series. From teachers, Shakespeare and memoirs and feminist theory.
And from my mom, comedy and Broadway and historical fiction. My John Jakes obsessed mama happily presented me with the American Girl books, The Dear America series and then, leading to my favorite fictional historical subject, royalty, The Royal Diaries. (I read the Marie Antoinette one over and over again. The Anastasia one didn’t grab me, oddly enough, but only because I knew Anastasia’s story by heart by the time I read it. The Romanovs were a favorite favorite subject of mine. And they still rank pretty high!) That lead to a decade long love affair with the Tudor intrigues of Philippa Gregory, visits back to the Romanovs with Robert Zimmerman, and eventually, through her portrait of Young Victoria, to Daisy Goodwin.
I’ve read Victoria (and watch the show Ms. Goodwin adapted from it) and The American Heiress, so I decided in between visits to Russia and a far flung galactic empire, (I’m starting Dune today) that I visit to Victorian England through Ms. Goodwin’s eyes would be a nice distraction.
And it was distracting. The Fortune Hunter centers around a love triangle (YAY!) constructed of Bay Middleton, a cavalry officer, (and distant family tree cousin of Kate! WEE!) Charlotte Baird, a brainy and artistic young heiress, and Empress Elizabeth of Austria. (I don’t know much about the Hapsburgs. If anyone knows of any other wildly inaccurate novels about her, I’m super game.)
Bay and Charlotte meet at a house party and fall in love. But he’s hired to guide the Empress for the hunting season, and then they fall in love. Or at least obsession. It’s unclear. They spend a year trying to untangle this very odd knot. Also there are horses and nosy relatives and photography is a big thing.
Oh, and a gay American. Sooo…yeah.
This is not a plot heavy book. Lots of neat atmosphere though.
I liked Charlotte a lot as a heroine. She was very Austenian, even if she came from a different era, all frankness and fiery spirit. I liked Elizabeth too, she’s definitely a tragic figure, so showing her that way was sad, but necessary.
The problem comes with Bay, and it’s frankly, a problem I’ve had with all of the male protagonists in Goodwin’s books. All of her men seem to wander around in existential despair until they meet a cheery young woman who brings them to life and gives them purpose. (Albert might be the exception, but the book Victoria was much more focused on Melbourne, and that’s definitely the arc she set up for him.) Bay is carrying on affairs with married women and riding horses and feeling a great deal of ennui until he meets Charlotte and she makes him feel alive for the first time.
It’s fine, it’s certainly great that Goodwin seems much more interested in her ladies than her gentlemen, which worked in Victoria, since the focus is well, Victoria, and in Heiress because Cora is meant to find her new husband mysterious and her English surrounding alien, but with Bay, it just makes him kind of boring.
I enjoyed The Fortune Hunter, and I’ll read dubious historical novels until I drop dead, but this was never going to be my favorite.