Monday, July 27, 2015

A Desperate Fortune with Susanna Kearsley

A Desperate Fortune / Susanna Kearsley
New York: Touchstone, c2015.
498 p.

I really enjoy Susanna Kearsley's romantic fiction. I like her style, her characters, and how she imbues her stories with history.

This latest book features amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas, who has been hired to try to break the code that a 300 year old journal is written in. The journal belonged to Mary Dundas, an exiled Jacobite who, as it turns out, was heavily involved in intrigue on the continent.

As usual with Kearsley's books, the story jumps back and forth between the present day and the historical past. In this book I much preferred the past. Mary was a young but intrepid woman, clever, curious, and loyal. Her love story was slow-moving but satisfying and thoroughly convincing. Plus all the history about the Jacobites was interesting, though perhaps a little heavy on the telling. I hope the next will move away from the Jacobite background, as it has been a major part of a few books now.

The present day story didn't really grab me. Sara is an unusual main character; she has Asperger's and has found that there are certain conditions she prefers that help her to manage her work life, such as working alone. Her preferences are certainly in opposition to most expectations of being 'political' and networky in your work life, and I found her determination to do things her way quite refreshing. That said, I also found her love story rather dull and unconvincing; her love interest is a bit flat to me, and she herself never really caught me in the same way that some of Kearsley's earlier heroines have.

The major difference between this book and many of the earlier Kearsley novels is the lack of any paranormal, timeslip elements. It's a straight ahead back-and-forth between past and present, mediated by Mary's journal. I think I missed that element, and discovered that what I really love about her books is in fact the mysteriousness of the psychic, ghostly, or timey-wimey bits.

Still, even if I didn't love this one in the same way as, say, The Shadowy Horses or The Rose Garden, I still enjoyed it and look forward to the next book with just as much anticipation as always.


Further Reading:

If you like the idea of Jacobites and Scottish intrigues, mixed in with a little romance and lot of historical fact, you could always try the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. While it's longer, and more time-travellish, it does share some elements of this story.

If the modern day story in this book is what you love, check out Katherine Neville's The Eight. It's far more mystical than this book, but it features lots of codes, ciphers and politics mixed in with multiple narratives past and present, in France as well...and has a fabulous heroine.


  1. Kearsley is a good author; I enjoy her books a lot. Too bad the present-day story in this one wasn't as good as the story set in the past. That's one of the problems I have with books that have alternating storylines like that; I usually love one, and find the other one just okay. But when they do it well.... :) My absolute favorite Kearsley novel is The Shadowy Horses. It's her best, in my opinion.

    1. I love The Shadowy Horses as well! That one and The Rose Garden are my favourites. I do like her books - even the "not as good" ones are better than most others I read :)

  2. Interesting to hear that her other works have all consistently included an element of the paranormal; I wonder what changed her approach here.

    This is one that I quite enjoyed too (and my first of her books), although I would agree that the love interest in the present-day wasn't quite as much of a hook as it might have been for me either, but I really enjoyed the historical aspects (especially the thoughts on keeping a diary and including it in a broader narrative, which I bet you loved too) most interesting from the start, so maybe that's not surprising.

    Curious: have you read The Eight recently? I went back to reread and found it different from my earlier readings (which must be a couple of decades ago?! Sheesh).

    1. You are right, the diary aspect was something I really loved!

      I have not read The Eight in many years; I do wonder if the spread of at least 15 yrs would change my view of it upon rereading? Was there something that jumped out at you as very different on this read?

    2. What I had remembered loving about it was how smart and savvy and resilient the heroine was; I think I had been reading a lot of Ludlum and Forsyth and traditional action/spy novels and she stood in stark contrast. But when I went to reread a couple of years back, the feminist heroine I remembered just wasn't there. I still have my copy amd I might try again another time. Oh, how I loved it back then!


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