Set in London and the surrounding countryside, the story follows 3 main characters, one of which is Charlotte a young girl of some wealth who meets the dashing horseman Bay Middleton. Unlike most simpering young girls eager to impress and win over potential beaus, Charlotte actually knows her own mind and isn't afraid to speak it. Her love of photography provides the starting point for a burgeoning romance to form. However, neither of them have any idea that the combination of Charlotte's aptitude for taking pictures and the entrance of the Empress of Austria on the scene will derail their love and cause ripples amongst the whole English high-born set.
I found the character of Elizabeth, the Empress of Australia (otherwise known as Sisi) a real enignma. To begin with I found it hard to identify with her seemingly shallow desires to spend her entire days gallivanting around the English countryside chasing after foxes, and assuming that everyone would bow to her every whim and desire. It is a life that is hard to imagine for us today in the 21st century where we feel we have freedom of choosing our own path. But Sisi's path was that of queen and in that she found the court life in Austria incredibly stifling and hard to cope with, escaping to England probably WAS her only freedom, so I didn't begrudge her that.
Bay Middleton, caught in the middle of an impossible impasse between love and duty appeared at first a bit flighty and a bit of a ladies man, and sometimes I just wanted to shake him and say 'man up would you!' But then, I've never been in the presence of royalty so who am I to say how I would respond?! I mean, if I'd got a message from Prince William saying I was to be his tour guide on his recent NZ trip, I doubt I'd have been able to say no either!
Charlotte on the other hand was much easier to love. Despite having inherited substantial wealth, she is no pushover and nor is she about to take the first offer of marriage that comes her way. I like that she had no qualms in putting over zealous suitors in their place. I identified with her quiet confidence and quick wit, taking on a very modern hobby in a male dominated time. Her love of photography is intertwined artfully throughout the story and individual photographs she takes play a pivotal part in leading the story to its ultimate conclusion.
And when I turned the last page and found out in the Author's note that the Empress Sisi, Bay Middleton and Charlotte were in fact real historical figures and parts of the story were based on documented fact it made this story all the more a satisfying read. I was sufficiently intrigued to do what we modern people can and Google her, finding the famous picture of with stars in her hair that that is mentioned a number of times in the book.
It was also sad to hear that in reality her life was (in spite of her royal status) a difficult one, her first daughter was removed from her care and raised by her mother-in-law, she lost her only son in a murder-suicide and then eventually her own life in a stabbing assassination in 1898. I'd wager her happiest days probably were those when she was riding alongside Bay Middleton jumping fences and riding like the wind without a care in the world.
The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin published by Hachette NZ is available from 29 April 2014, RRP $37.99.
Thanks to Hachette NZ for the review copy.
Disclaimer: I was given a copy of The Fortune Hunter in exchange for my review. I am not being compensated in any other way.