Published by St. Martin's Press
Publication date: July 29th 2014
Charlotte Baird has just become the heir to the Lennox family fortune and as she is unmarried she is now the most sought after young lady in England, despite the fact that she has no interest in dancing, needlepoint, horseback riding or even in being married (horrors!). Instead, she spends her days taking photographs—a new media that most find to be infinitely inferior to having one’s portrait painted. She is also constrained by her older brother who acts as her trustee until she marries or reaches twenty-five and he and his ambitious bride-to-be are not eager to lose the income Charlotte provides for them. And so the stage is set in The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin. The possible fortune hunter, in this case, is the handsome but impoverished Captain Bay Middleton, an officer in the British cavalry.
Bay and Charlotte embark on a hidden relationship that culminates in stolen kisses and his declaration of his desire to make Charlotte his wife. His impetuosity is lost on the practical Charlotte who feels more time is needed before they announce their intentions. When the Empress of Austria arrives and requests Bay’s presence as her guide to the hunting season, he agrees, hoping the reward is a promotion to a higher rank, giving him greater standing as a suitor for Charlotte. Little does he know that he will find himself caught between the flattering attention of the woman dubbed ‘the most beautiful in the world’ and the young heiress. His relationship with Sisi (as the Empress is known to friends) soon goes well beyond the boundaries of propriety and when Charlotte inadvertently captures his desire in a photo it devastates her and what she believed to be their ‘understanding’—a euphemism at the time indicating a man’s verbal commitment to marry.
Based solely on the plot, The Fortune Hunter sounds like a romance novel but thanks to Goodwin’s finesse and research skills it goes well beyond that. The novel is not only grounded in a historical context—all of the characters existed and did interact socially—but Goodwin includes details of aristocratic life at such a minute level that it would seem she grew up with these arcane rules. Or is it common knowledge that seating at the dinner table is designated as “below the salt” for those of lesser rank? Thankfully, for those who love historical fiction Godowin’s ability to capture all aspects of life results in reading that immerses one not only in the events of the time but into the characters as well.
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