What’s it all about?:
In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies. Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything — except happiness.
Bored with her dutiful Empress life in Vienna she comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton. Then years younger than her, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his, for he is promised to Charlotte. But Bay and the Empress are reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.
THE FORTUNE HUNTER tells the true story of a nineteenth century Queen of Hearts and cavalry captain, and the struggle between love and duty.
What did I think?:
First of all, many thanks to Book Bridgr and Headline Books for giving me the opportunity to read this fabulous novel prior to its publication date. I am familiar with Daisy Goodwin’s work after loving her first novel, The Last Duchess which was also a Richard and Judy Book Club pick here in the UK. This novel is set in Victorian England in 1875 and based on the infamous Empress of Austria, Elisabeth – known affectionately as Sisi, who visits England mainly for the hunting but manages to ruffle a few feathers along the way. Married to Emperor Franz Joseph I at 16 years old, Sisi was notorious for many things portrayed in this novel including her extremely long hair, excellence at horse-riding and eccentric beauty regime which involved strips of raw veal being placed on her face as a mask while she slept, thinking that it would preserve her beauty.
Portrait of Elisabeth depicting her long hair (by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1864), one of two so-called “intimate” portraits of the empress; although its existence was kept a secret from the general public, it was the emperor’s favourite portrait of her and kept opposite his desk in his private study
Picture from Wikipedia
Our “other” woman (quite literally!) and probably my favourite character in this novel is a young woman called Charlotte Baird, heir to the Lennox fortune which she is due to receive when she turns 25 years old. At the present time, Charlotte’s fortune and marriage prospects are guarded by her brother Fred who is keen for her to marry his friend nicknamed “Chicken,” who has his beady eye on the fortune of the heiress rather than her other qualities. However, Charlotte is headstrong and independent, a keen and gifted photographer and determined to marry for love. When she meets our final main character, Captain Bay Middleton and he seems to show an interest in her as a person rather than her fortune she begins to fall in love with him. What Charlotte does not know is that Bay Middleton has a reputation for being quite the ladies man and her brother and sister-in-law strongly disapprove of their budding relationship.
Things heat up when Middleton is chosen by Earl Spencer to become a “pilot” for the Empress of Austria (riding alongside and watching out for her during hunts) in her visit to England. The Empress adores riding and hunting, and was famous for being the best woman equestrian at that time with few men able to keep up with her. Sisi is desperately unhappy in her marriage and escapes to England longing for change and excitement but she does not expect to find this with Captain Middleton whom she immediately forms an intense attachment with. Middleton is also surprised to discover he has feelings for the Empress especially when he has come to an understanding and probable engagement with Charlotte and has his own dreams of winning The Grand National with his beloved horse Tipsy.
The love triangle that follows paints a beautiful portrait of an incredibly unhappy and selfish woman who is used to getting everything she wants, a man that cannot decide what he wants, and a young and talented heiress who knows exactly what she wants but is uncertain if she will ever get it. I thoroughly enjoyed the blend of fact and fiction that Daisy Goodwin has written that has made me all the more intrigued to find out more about these characters who actually existed, lived and loved. Like her debut novel The Last Duchess, it has fascinating characters and an excellent plot-line that kept me eager to read on. Can’t wait to see what she does next!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):