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.
Received from netgalley in exchange for a review. Word of warning: dont go into this book expecting a quick read in a set romance format (e.g. Boy and girl meet, fall in love, have big falling out, come back together, happy every after all in under 300 pages).
It starts with Captain Bey Middleton, being dumped by his married lover who, upon realising she’s pregnant with his baby, decides to call short her season to return to her husband, to at least try to pass the child off as not a bastard.
On the rebound, he meets Charlotte at a ball where her brother Fred and his ageing fiancée (all of 24years old) are also there. Being in the same regiment as Fred, Bey manages to get an introduction to Charlotte, whose fortune (whilst she is unmarried and under the age of consent) is allowing her brother to live a life he could ill afford otherwise. Bey is an Army man, with few prospects, and his reputation with women and their money marks him out as a Fortune Hunter. However, he and Charlotte come to an agreement over the next months, his horse and her interest in photography.
This is all threatened, however, by the arrival of the Empress of Austria into Gloucestershire for the hunting season, and Bey being tasked to be her Pilot through the unknown English terrain. Nearing 40 and already a grandmother, Sisi is weary of Austrian court life and marriage to a husband who is more interested in matters of state than attending a moment for his wife. She has come to England to take part in the hunting in order to escape the court, and get some vigour back in her life.
Bey is dazzled by her, her riding ability, the practicalities of horses, and her long luscious hair. Soon the two are having an affair leaving Charlotte to extract herself from the situation and take her photography forward. An unfortunate photograph in a Royal show (Queen Victoria and John Brown make several appearances in the book, and it’s not entirely flattering) makes Bey realise his choices were probably not the best, and he needs to rectify them before it’s too late. However, Charlotte has already made choices that look to scupper everything.
This is a book where you need to pay attention. A lot of information is presented to you (all the principal characters are real apparently), including Austria-Hungarian and British royalty, duty, horses, photography, the Grand National. That men could use the interest from their sister’s inheritance to further their own lifestyle (and the women having no power to stop them, even if they wanted to) is another thing for women in 21st century to be thankful for as no longer expected and tolerated behaviour.
The principal characters, and most of the secondary ones, are fleshed out well. It’s not a lazy afternoon read and is recommended to those who enjoy intellegant historical fiction