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.
Having finished this book I was delighted to discover that in the Author's Notes that the majority of the characters all existed in real life - even if a little artistic license has been taken with their personalities. Charlotte's interest in photography I found really interesting, and it is refreshing for a heroine for a heroine in a novel set in this era to have such a modern stance on women's role in society. She wants more than marriage, she wants a life of her own.
I knew that Sisi was a real person but didn't know much about her. I did feel sorry for her as she longed to escape her caged existence, but I also found her a bit selfish in her obsession with Bay. She expected him to give up his life for her, something he could never do. She cuts quite a tragic figure, so afraid of ageing that she refuses all photographs and employs ridiculous anti-ageing methods in the hope of keeping her youthful looks.
This novel is packed full of period details, from the stately homes and balls to the thrill of the fox hunt. But if you liked your books action packed then this isn't for you. I found myself waiting for something to happen a lot of the time. Charlotte's photography career is the most interesting part of the novel in my opinion, with the gallery exhibitions, her wonderfully flamboyant new friend Casper (who is actually deserving of a novel of his own), and the brilliant depictions of Queen Victoria and her devoted Scottish servant John Brown. I also enjoyed Bay's stint in the Grand National. In short I cared little for the central story of the novel, the love triangle of Bay, Sisi and Charlotte, and found the sub-plots much more engaging.
Contrary to many other reviewers I did like Bay, and his declaration to Charlotte at the end of the novel was incredibly romantic, but I couldn't help wondering how long it would be before another pretty married woman turned his head - after all he's the most famous rider in the country now! Perhaps the most honest and open relationship in the novel was between Bay and his horse Tipsy. No matter how many women come and go, I got the distinct impression that she will always be his number one girl.
4/5 stars: Undoubtedly well written and engaging, and packed full of sumptuous period detail, but the plot didn't grab me like I had expected it to.
*I was lucky enough to win a free proof copy of this book via Goodreads Giveaways*