Book Review: A Desperate Fortune


ashley | Ah. Summer reading. I usually love to leave books by Susanna Kearsley for at the cottage, her books are perfect to lose yourself in for an afternoon in the sun, but it’s been a while since she’s had anything new and I just couldn’t hold off on A Desperate Fortune.

I often have a hard time getting into period pieces. History isn’t my strong suit. But the way Kearsley threads history into her fiction, I’m almost tricked into learning about the past without really realizing it. She has this great way of taking a modern story with really interesting characters and reflecting their current lives onto the past.

Speaking of interesting characters, Sara Thomas is probably one of Kearsley’s most interesting and complex characters, making her one of my favourites. Challenged with Aspergers, Sara is a wiz with codes and is hired to crack a difficult cipher in Paris. Another really interesting plot point. Codes! It’s like this book just compiled all my favourite things into one.

As is to be expected, there’s a flurry of interesting characters here, all who seem to have their own rich histories. In Sara’s time, Luc is a mysterious and delicious addition, a distraction to Sara’s work and to my own reading. His relationship with his ex-wife Denise, who serves Sara, is a unique and interesting story as well; a chance to create some drama, but a chance that is treaded very lightly upon. Claudine, Sara’s hostess, is also a web of mysteries, we don’t know much about her other than the fact that she’s a photographer living in a house a photographer’s budget couldn’t afford and she’s at ends with Alistair, the man who has hired and send Sara there to begin with. And these are just the characters in the modern timeline.

While I liked all the characters individually, I wasn’t entirely sold on Sara’s budding relationship with Luc. In theory, it seemed like I’d be fully behind it, but there was just something about it that didn’t seem natural to me, something that seemed too quick or too forced. This was sort of explained away in the end and everything seemed to have a reason, but I still wasn’t entirely sold on their budding relationship… the relationship between Mary and Hugh, in the past, grew from an emotional bond that developed over time and travel, but for Sara and Luc, it seemed more like they just existed together, didn’t really know each other and just spent time existing together. It just didn’t fit for me, not like Mary and Hugh, and that, let me tell you, fit perfectly. I love, love, love the ending. It’s obvious, but it’s great.

The book held a lot of other greatness. The past and present is almost seamlessly blended in a way that stretches beyond the simple act of having the two time periods take place at the same location. I love when this is done well and here, this is done quite well. I especially enjoyed the adult fairy tale aspect, the stories Mary wove into her journal and the discussions about these stories and female writers in general. It was all very feminist and empowering, not what I expected to find layered into this book.

As is always the case, I gravitated more towards the historical portion of the novel, speeding through modern day so I could return to Mary and her adventures. But that isn’t to say it all wasn’t enjoyable. Kearsley has done it again, another interesting, intriguing historical novel that tricked me into loving history without even realizing it.


veronica | There are certain authors that you’re always excited for their new work. Susanna Kearsley is one of them. She always expertly blends the past and present and somehow allows you to step into the shoes of someone from the past. A Desperate Fortune is no different.

We meet Sara, a modern woman living with Asperger’s and is desperate to just be seen and viewed as “normal”. Her entire life has been managed by her well-meaning cousin to prevent meltdowns and embarrassment. Sara’s mentality about her disease is to just fake it until she makes it. Which left a bit of head scratching when she meets and decides to just be and be in love with Luc. Sara’s expert ability at puzzle solving enabled her to almost easily decipher Mary Dundas’s encrypted journal.

This wouldn’t be a true Kearlsey novel if we didn’t also have a heroine from the past that we could cheer for, Mary Dundas was such a wonderfully written character and learning from her life via her journal was such a refreshing take that I got excited every time Sara deciphered another passage. There were many times that I felt I had stepped right into the pages and Mary’s shoes. I was that engrossed. And we had to have Hugh MacPherson, the handsome highlander to thrill us and Mary alike.

One thing that I could never complain about Kearsley’s writing is how well researched her material is. She makes the rise and fall of the Jacobites come alive and just so interesting. It makes me want to become a historian and learn all I can too.

I can honestly say that I didn’t want Mary’s story to end. I would be perfectly happy if there was a book two.


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April 7, 2015