Book Review: A Desperate Fortune

A Desperate Fortune
Published By: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: April 7, 2015
Page Count: 519
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction

This novel is one of those that beautifully weaves a contemporary story line with a historical fiction one. I love when authors are able to execute this sort of tale; it blends together past and present in a way that makes for an addicting sort of read for a history nut like me. The historical components of this novel also focus on a time period beyond my expertise. I know little about the Jacobites and their impact on European history beyond a cursory knowledge of their political struggles. I love reading about people and events in history that are unfamiliar.

The contemporary component of this novel follows a young woman named Sara who has Asperger's and struggles to blend in, but prefers solitude. She finds herself being lured from her home in London to accept a job in France working on decoding an old diary written completely in cipher. To make matters more difficult, the source of the cypher is unknown. Sara is leery of the job at first, but soon launches herself into the challenge. To her surprise, she figures out the structure of the cypher and begins to unravel the private thoughts of Mary Dundas, a young woman who lived in the mid 1700's. As Sara discovers the diary's secrets, the historical storyline revolving around Mary comes to light.

Mary is being used to help hide a man who is wanted by the British crown. He is being hidden by Jacobites in France and Mary is forced into the charade to keep him safe. She will find herself thrust into the greatest adventure of her life full of intrigue, adventure, and secrets. I loved the segments of the novel that took place in Mary's time.

While I loved the historical bits, I enjoyed the contemporary pieces, but not as much. I found Sara hard to relate to as a main character. This was largely because she was shut off socially and emotionally for a majority of the novel. She begins to open up and find comfort in others as the novels progresses, but as someone who does not operate in the same manner as Sara, I found her cold and indifferent at times. I also found myself more drawn to Mary's situation. 

Overall, I loved this novel and highly recommend it to historical fiction fans. I also feel like those who enjoy Sarah Jio's work will also like this one. Both Jio and Kearsley combine the past and present in a compelling way.

One Last Gripe: Some of the contemporary scenes moved slowly.

Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning more about the Jacobites

First Sentence: My cousin didn't try to catch the bride's bouquet.

Favorite Character: Mary

Least Favorite Character: the Bounty Hunters

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.


  1. What a contrast of characters! Aspberger's (and ASD in general) is such a common term these days, it makes me wonder how different history would have been if people had known this scientific "label" to put on it.


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