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 the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.
Full of passion and drama, THE FORTUNE HUNTER tells the true story of a nineteenth century Queen of Hearts and a cavalry captain, and the struggle between love and duty.
Historical Fiction used to be my go-to genre, and I would say this is a Historical Fiction in a loose sense. The setting, the environment, the decorum, they all have their roots in historic countenance, but there was an undeniable modern tone to the whole story, which made me like it all the more.
I really enjoyed the story, it was a good romance story, but it also looked at the constraints of Victorian society, highlighted the difficulties of being a female heir, and the difficult situations that often arose from marriages for money and position, not love. Charlotte, our main protagonist was very interesting (most of her character is fabricated, but that’s ok with me). She is a photographer, an heir, and almost completely inexperienced when it comes to men. While she has a couple suitors who are only after her money, she falls for the known womanizer – Bay. Even though she knows his past, he gives her every encouragement that she is the woman to settle him and his philandering ways. Though this sweeps her off her feet, she is still smart enough to resist his urge to elope, and makes choices like going to London to work with her god-mother, as opposed to staying and watching him like a hawk. I was very impressed with her, she is a good balance of naive and independent, she’s brave and strong, and determined to set a name for herself separate from her money – largely ignoring the public opinion that often looks down on her.
Bay is interesting, caught between his womanizing ways and the girl he can see a future with, only to come under the spell of an Empress of renowned beauty. I liked the complex story he’s given, he somehow feels bound to the fulfill the notorious ways that all of his friends assume from him, and I think this is one of the reasons he makes his mistake. He has a great story though, and a believable and encouraging transformation. He comes under Charlotte’s spell immediately, and it catches him off guard. Then he is conned into being a guide for the Empress, who he is obviously mesmerized by – like every other man – and manipulated into becoming her lover (though he doesn’t fight real hard against it at first). He enters into the affair right before Charlotte leaves, and somehow convinces himself it’s her fault for not eloping with him – he believed to elope would force him to remain loyal. Basically, he’s a douche at this point. However, he begins to see the manipulative ways of the Empress, her desire to own him and not just love him, and when Charlotte breaks off their engagement when she finds out about the affair he finally gets a dose of reality and realizes his mistakes.
Though it’s a bit cookie-cutter, it’s done in a great way. Bay’s discovery of the truth of the Empress and his true feelings is an interesting path. And while he’s caught in the Empress’ clutches, Charlotte finds herself bonding with another young gentleman, who definitely is attracted solely to her, not her money. The lose of Charlotte, his reduction to an Empress’ plaything, and the threat of losing the few things he truly loves (his country, his horse, and Charlotte finally shakes him from his caviler lifestyle to admit his true desires. So he wins the Grand National steeple chase that has always been his dream, get’s Charlotte back, and they head off to America so she can fulfill her photography dreams.
The Empress is very interesting, I pitied her while also hating her. She’s lived a charmed life and isn’t used to not getting what she wants, making her extremely manipulative. She has no qualms about ruining Charlotte’s love life, and is so vain that she can’t see that Bay would rather be with Charlotte instead of her, and won’t let anyone take a photograph of her because she’s beginning to get wrinkles. While it’s clear her husband ignores her, which is awful, and she yearns for love, she does not look for an equal relationship. The way she uses Bay is ridiculous, and he can’t see that she’s manipulating him into becoming her lover until it’s done and it almost ruins his life. She’s so superior that she finds visits with Queen Victoria troublesome and blatantly offends other nations royalty. And though she ditched her husband to hunt in the U.K. for an undetermined time, she also left her daughter there, and never talks about her, what kind of mother is that!? Basically, she is a horrible person, so horrible Bay literally has to go to American to get away from her.
Overall, really good read, loved the modern tone of the language and the introduction of independent women in a time when it was almost impossible to do anything beyond your husband.