BOOK REVIEW: A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

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Book: A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Genre: Historical Fiction

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread — its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal’s cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal’s reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn’t hold the secrets Sara expects.

It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.

When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.

As Mary’s tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take… to find the road that will lead her safely home. (description from goodreads)

Before I get started with this review–do you, my lovely readers, like reading the goodreads or amazon description of the book and then moving on to the review, or do you prefer it when I try to summarize the story in my own words? I’m always afraid that I’ll be doing the author/publisher a disservice by not including their description of it, while at the same time feeling a little like a hack for just going with their description. Thoughts?

Moving on…

I adore Susannah Kearsley’s writing. I’ve read nearly all of her published books, though I still haven’t posted all the reviews I’ve written on them. Too much content is certainly not a bad problem to have, but it is a tiny bit frustrating when I think I’ve written reviews for all of these other books I love–and I have–I just haven’t published them. You can read my review of Season of Storms here.

A Desperate Fortune definitely carries along Kearsley’s buckets-of-history writing style. She loves weaving tons of history into the dialogue. If you’re not even slightly history-nerdish, I can imagine that might be a bit overwhelming, but I truly feel that the stories are exceptional enough to make it worth it. Telling stories from dual viewpoints is always popular, but Kearsley has a real knack for weaving stories between the past and the present. This also reminds me a lot of the Outlander series (currently reading that, by the way, loving it, and will probably have at least a series overview of it eventually). I’ve been trying to take it slowly with the Outlander series, since one of my great phobias is finishing the published books in a series before the next one is out. I do have to say though, although the Outlander series has buoyed my love of the Scottish theme, that whole phase for me was started by Susannah Kearsley. The Winter Sea, Mariana, and The Shadowy Horses are most notably set in Scotland, but The Firebird also has a good deal of Scottish history in it, and all of her books have that same gothic romance setting to them.

But… Back to A Desperate Fortune. It’s not really surprising to me anymore, but I was not that into the current-day story. It was okay–I was interested enough to keep reading–but the real driving impetus was getting back to Mary Dundas’ story. I feel that way about nearly every book in this dual-time structure though. It is always about getting right back into the history of it all… for me anyways.

I feel like the historical aspects of the story always make more sense. For example, in A Desperate Fortune, Sara is on the autism spectrum, though pretty high-functioning, and has some real trouble dealing with people in certain situations, but she never just tells anybody about it. Maybe that’s the autism talking (not talking?) but it just doesn’t make any sense to me. She acts like it’s a big secret, when the fact of the matter is that some people do have to know, or will find out eventually. Then again, maybe she just hopes that she’ll blend in with the other crazies. Goodness knows there are plenty of people that are just naturally shy, reserved, and a little socially awkward (who? me? aheh… no idea what you’re talking about…)
I don’t know. The long and short of it is that I was really impatient to get back to Mary’s story, and while I did enjoy reading about Sara’s struggle to break the cipher, I was secretly thinking “just hurry up and get on with it!” the whole time.

So! If you’re in love with the Outlander series–read Susannah Kearsley. If you like historical fiction–read Susannah Kearsley. If you like any sort of fiction with crazy beautiful settings, and the classy pride-and-prejudice style romance–read Susannah Kearsley. That about cover it? I think it does!

I loved it: five out of five stars.