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. (from Goodreads)
I read and enjoyed Goodwin's previous novel "The American Heiress" and was very much looking forward to this novel, set in an unusual time period and about a historical figure who is never covered. The "peg" of this story is that the Empress Sisi was the Princess Diana of her day. Unfortunately, "The Fortune Hunter" provides only tantalizing glimpses of this sad, enigmatic figure in favor of a more traditional courtship plot. There are only occasional forays into the point of view of the Empress -we don't even see her at the end when everything has been resolved
I did speed through this book, enjoying the fast-narrative and Goodwin's ability to move among a wide range of character viewpoints. She has a wonderful feel for the passive-aggressive tone of society dialogue and I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes with Queen Victoria! You don't get to see her at this stage of her life very often in historical fiction.
But I did not feel an emotional connection to any of the characters and was not convinced of their emotional connections with each other. The plot often feels as though it has been twisted to appeal to 21st century readers - from the cliche happy ending that feels unbelievable for such shallow, selfish people to the horribly stereotyped sassy gay best friend who props up the middle of the story.
I would recommend this novel to readers who are looking for a novel that is closer to historical romance than mainstream historical fiction. This reads as a romance that has a vague association with facts and uses the historical setting and figure as a jumping-off point for the story.
Disclaimer: I received an advance e-galley from the publisher for review.