For nearly three hundred years, the cryptic journal of Mary Dundas has kept its secrets. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas travels to Paris to crack the cipher.
Jacobite exile Mary Dundas is filled with longing-for freedom, for adventure, for the family she lost. When fate opens the door, Mary dares to set her foot on a path far more surprising and dangerous than she ever could have dreamed.
As Mary’s gripping tale of rebellion and betrayal is revealed to her, Sara faces events in her own life that require letting go of everything she thought she knew-about herself, about loyalty, and especially about love. Though divided by centuries, these two women are united in a quest to discover the limits of trust and the unlikely coincidences of fate.
Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Landmark April 7, 2015
Time and Setting: France, 1732 and Present Day
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction/Contemporary Fiction
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars
Review by Jill
A computer programmer and amateur encryption specialist, Sara Thomas is offered a job breaking the code of a handwritten diary from the eighteenth century. The diary was owned by Mary Dundas, the daughter of a Jacobite sympathiser.
After her mother died, Mary was sent by her father, a Jacobite exile, to live with her aunt and uncle in France. When she’s twenty-one, her brother comes for her, and with his full support and knowledge, involves Mary in a Jacobite intrigue, by asking her to pose as someone’s sister. This man is being sought by the English for his involvement in a scheme to supply much-needed funds for King James and his supporters in exile after the ’15 rebellion. The man’s bodyguard is the enigmatic and forbidding Highlander, Hugh MacPherson.
As with most of Susanna Kearsley’s stories this one takes place in dual timelines. The past set in 1732 (and mostly in France) is told via the diary as Sara deciphers its content. Unlike most of Ms Kearsley’s stories though, there are no supernatural, paranormal, time travel or timeslip elements at all.
The historical story here, as often happens in dual timelines, did end up the more interesting and entertaining thread. However, both romances – with Sara and Luc Sabran in the present, and Mary and Hugh in the past – are delicious. An added aspect to Sara and Luc’s relationship is Sara’s Asperger’s Syndrome. Though I’ve read many books with the hero having this condition, this is the first time I’ve read a heroine with AS. Ms Kearsley does a convincing and remarkable job of depicting the heroine’s ‘shortcomings’ and particular idiosyncrasies.
The beginning is really quite slow. But the story picks up pace, ending on a high. Overall, it’s a slightly uneven read, but with an ending that was almost perfection, it’s impossible not to forgive the slow beginning. There is nothing to fault as per usual in the meticulous research and artful story-telling, and the notes at the end of the book are not to be missed. Ms Kearsley tells how she was inspired to write this story, and of the real Mary Dundas on whom the story is based.
Very, very few authors can write romance in that subtle, understated way that conveys by simple words and gestures the emotions and tenderness of a couple’s growing love. Susanna Kearsley has this down to an art form, as shown brilliantly in my favourite scene which comes near the very end with Hugh, Mary and an equipage. It’s utterly captivating.
Though not in quite the same class as The Winter Sea, Mariana or The Rose Garden, A Desperate Fortune is definitely worth reading. Just don’t give up if it doesn’t grab you at first – the payoff will come.
Recommended for readers who enjoy romantic historical fiction, straight historical fiction and stories set in dual timelines.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Susanna Kearsley is known for her meticulous research and exotic settings from Russia to Italy to Cornwall, which not only entertain her readers but give her a great reason to travel. Her lush writing has been compared to Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, and Diana Gabaldon. She hit the bestseller lists in the U.S. with The Firebird (a RITA winner) as well as, The Winter Sea and The Rose Garden (both RITA finalists and winners of RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards). Other honors include National Readers’ Choice Awards, the prestigious Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize, and finaling for the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Her popular and critically acclaimed books are available in translation in more than 20 countries and as audiobooks. She lives in Canada, near the shores of Lake Ontario.