This straightforward novel is richly detailed in terms of society during the Victorian period, having plenty to say about the rules and conventions at that time.
Based on a true story, Goodwin’s book begins when the Empress of Austria arrives in England to do some hunting and meets Captain Bay Middleton, who is engaged to the very much independent Charlotte. What follows is a tangled trio love affair, with Bay’s fascination with the Empress threatening to ruin his relationship with Charlotte.
It is clear that Goodwin found researching the character of Sisi, the Empress of Austria – who comes across as quite a lonely and isolated character and is certainly earns the reader’s sympathy – a fascinating personality in history, even though gradually her happiness depends too much on Bay Middleton in the novel.
This is why the character Charlotte makes a interesting contrast. As a rich heiress, she is courted by many after her fortune but she prefers the idea of taking photographs (a format in very early stages at the time). It is also clear that she is also slightly outcast for not behaving as a woman in her class should – much to the disconcertion of her brother. Her spirit makes her likeable for a modern reader and is certain of our attention throughout.
In the middle of all this is Bay Middleton – who is known to be a bit of a womaniser but is easily capable of real affection when he puts his mind to it. Yet he is equally attracted to two women that have a real spirt for life in completely different ways – and the book leaves you guessing until the end about which one he is in love with.
There is no doubting in the vividness of the descriptions of the sights and sounds of the era that Goodwin so brilliantly manages to conjure up like in her previous novel My Last Duchess. Everything is well thought out and to the purpose – even allowing the reader a glimpse of Queen Victoria through the eyes of her equal.
But the trouble with the book is that although the characters and detail are well developed, the plot itself feels lacking and will frustrate those who are hoping for a few more twists and turns throughout as well as more interactions between the three main characters themselves.
It is a subtle novel that really relies on the strength of its characters to carry it through, and Goodwin has certainly brought them to life vividly.
For historical fiction fans there is plenty of historical detail included, but for those looking for something to grip them from beginning to end, they might need to look elsewhere as this is a very laid back and gentle novel.
The Fortune Hunter is available to buy on Amazon now.