Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.
Susanna Kearsley has been on my must-read list for a while now. Unfortunately, my must-read list is so long that I’ve been slow getting around to her. Thanks to Netgalley, I had an excuse to bump one of her novels to the front of the list: A Desperate Fortune, released earlier this year.
The book provides two stories in one. First, there is the contemporary romance. Sara Thomas is a computer programmer with Asperger’s, who has not had much success with her love life. Or her life, for that matter. She doesn’t work well in teams and so is currently between jobs. Her cousin Jacqui is the opposite. An editor who works with famous authors, Jacqui is a people person. Jacqui has always considered herself Sara’s protector. (She was the one who helped guide Sara to her diagnosis.) Now, Jacqui is helping Sara find a job. One of her writers needs help decoding an old diary that was written in a cipher. Sara has to go to Paris to do it because the woman who owns the diary won’t release it to be studied.
The meat of the story is what is contained in the diary. Mary Dundas is the daughter of Jacobites, but she has been raised in the safety of her aunt and uncle’s house, away from court intrigues. Her older brother, who she has not seen in many years, sends for her out of the blue. Thrilled to feel she was finally remembered by the family that abandoned her, she soon finds out that her brother is not really inviting her into his home. Rather, he has volunteered her for a secret mission–to help a mysterious man, a Jacobite, hide from English foes.
Mary is to go to Paris and pose as this man’s sister. This is more difficult than it seems. A dangerous-looking stranger is living across the street, watching them. And no one discusses what is really going on. When someone betrays the whereabouts of the Jacobite, Mary is forced to flee along with him. They are accompanied by her chaperone and by a fierce, cold, bodyguard--Hugh MacPherson, who is an accomplished killer.
The small group is in constant danger as they make their way to southern France and then to Rome, seeking protection from the exiled would-be king.
Mary shows herself to be a strong, clever, loyal woman, up to all the challenges thrown at them, including the possibility of falling in love.
The sweeping scope of the novel meant it was a bit slow to get going as all the pieces were set in place. However, once I got caught up in it, I couldn’t put it down.
Im general, I steer away from dual narrative novels where one of the storylines is contemporary, using either a diary or other framing device or time travel in order to direct the reader into the historical part of the book. I tend to like my historical fiction straight up and the contemporary parts fall flat. In this book also, I was a bit impatient with Sara’s story, which hinged so much on her Asperger’s that it almost seemed like a lesson on the syndrome. However, Mary’s story made it all worthwhile. It’s an exciting adventure and beautiful romance.