Occasionally, I receive Advance Readers Copies of books in the mail, but I’m very bad about reading them before their publication date, defeating the purpose of the Advance Readers Copy. So I have made it a specific goal to read these ARCs as soon as possible after receiving them. I was absolutely delighted to receive such a copy of Daisy Goodwin’s The Fortune Hunter in the mail a few weeks ago, and I hurried to finish the book I was then reading so that I might plunge into what looked like a delicious mix of historical fiction and romance.
Goodwin’s novel revolves around Charlotte, a young photographer and fabulously wealthy heiress who is a bit of an odd duck in London society circa the 1870’s; Bay Middleton, a dashing army officer, world-class horse rider, and ladies man attempting reformation; and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi, who is visiting England to hunt with the great country estates. Simply from that description, I bet you can guess the rest of the story. Yes, Bay and Charlotte become quite attached and are unofficially engaged when the Empress’s arrival and pursuit of Bay threaten to ruin their chance at happiness. Running around this central love triangle are Charlotte’s officious brother and scheming, social-climbing sister-in-law; another fortune hunter suitor of Charlotte’s, unflatteringly nicknamed “Chicken”; Sisi’s petulant and childish adult son; Charlotte’s fretful chaperon and her domineering yet bohemian godmother; and Caspar, a fellow photographer from America who fits right into the “gay best friend” trope of modern chick lit. (Caspar, a talented society photographer and potentially complex character, valiantly fights to rise above the stock character niche into which Goodwin has placed him, but Goodwin’s writing does him no favors.)
You may have picked up that I do not think much of this book, though I have tried to be subtle about it. However, the more I think about it, the more irritated I become. First of all, let’s talk about the mechanics of the writing itself. I realize that ARCs are not finished copies and that there are still final rounds of both content and copy editing to be done before final publication. However, I was absolutely appalled at the amount of ridiculous errors in this book. I sometimes copy edit these ARCs, more for fun and practice than to actually contribute to the editing process, but there were so many errors in 3 pages that I had to put my pen away, lest I be unable to focus on the story. The errors ran the gamut between copy and just bad writing: extra spaces before the period; random periods, apostrophes, and other errant punctuation, some even in the middle of words; inconsistent use of commas (some independent clauses were joined by a comma and conjunction, others just conjunctions, and you never knew when the Oxford comma would pop up or be left out); and the persistent misspelling of Elisabeth’s name (She is Germanic, so it is spelled with an “s”, not a “z”. This is well-documented, Ms. Goodwin). And then there are the run-on sentences. Oh, the run-on sentences! I know writers who have used run-on sentences as a tool to indicate stream-of-consciousness to great effect. Goodwin is not doing this. She simply appears to have very little understanding of how to punctuate complete thoughts. Quite frankly, we could use this book as an editing exercise in any level of my English classes. It’s appalling. It looked like she tossed off the first draft and sent it to her publisher without proofing, and her publisher had that first draft made into the ARC manuscript. I realize that I make and miss errors myself, even in this blog, and I appreciate those who take the time to help me proof my writing. However, I would NEVER send any writing to anyone in the state that this ARC is in. I would be too embarrassed.
Perhaps I am being too hard on Ms. Goodwin. Perhaps it is the fault of whoever set the manuscript and her copy editor. If that is the case, however, I would refrain from describing said copy editor as “brilliant” in the Acknowledgements. And, of course, these mistakes should all be fixed before the book goes to final publication. In theory.
Now let’s move on to the actual quality of writing. It’s pedestrian. The story itself could be interesting, but Goodwin takes all of the sex appeal out of it and makes it rather boring. Never mind that almost all of the historical information contained in the book (excepting Sisi’s apparent cocaine habit) is found on the Wikipedia page for Empress Elisabeth. Additionally, Goodwin feels the need to spell things out for her readers. I have not yet decided whether I should be offended that she thinks me so incapable of critical thinking or if I should just conclude that she’s simply a bad writer. Case in point: Charlotte departs for London quite suddenly, and her letter to Bay informing him of the fact is mis-delivered. She sees him wander out onto the front porch and laugh with her brother and his friend as she is riding away in the carriage. She broods about the laugh and what it could mean, not realizing he had no idea of her departure or that it was her in the carriage. The next section is from Bay’s point of view, detailing his experience up to and beyond that laugh. Goodwin sets the scene nicely, smoothly leading into the laugh in question. Had she just continued on, it would have been fine. Instead, she writes, “That was the laugh Charlotte saw from the carriage.” No kidding. If you do your job as author, you shouldn’t have to spell that out for your readers.
Again, perhaps I am being too hard on Ms. Goodwin. Perhaps it was her editor who felt that that line needed to be included. To which I would say, as an editor, you need to guide your author toward writing more clearly and compellingly rather than including a line that insults the intelligence of her readers.
Finally, we will end with the poor quality of the story itself and the negative messages it is sending to both male and female readers. Bay is a terrible role model. He only decides he needs to find a nice girl to settle down with when his previous mistress becomes pregnant and decides to join her husband and raise the child legitimately. Bay was dumped, he got sad, he decided it was time to find a nice girl. He finds not just a nice girl but an intelligent, independent, quirky, talented, and interesting girl. He makes her fall in love with him and then falls for the Empress almost immediately. He carries on a poorly concealed affair with the Empress, all the while professing, both to Charlotte and to himself, his love of Charlotte and desire to marry her. And finally, the only, ONLY reason he actually tries to get Charlotte back is not because he doesn’t love the Empress anymore but because he decides that he doesn’t like being treated like an owned object by the Empress. WHAT? And we are expected to feel sympathy for him?
Empress Elisabeth is just an unlikable character. Spoiled, never opposed, bratty, selfish, and generally unpleasant. The only thing she has going for her is her beauty, which is fading, and her ridiculously long hair.
And then there is Charlotte. Charlotte started out with such promise. She is the quirky girl, the girl who doesn’t fit into London society, whose life doesn’t revolve around whether or not she gets married, and who has found happiness, talent, and some success in an exciting new art and technology. Then Bay comes into the picture and ruins it. The rest of the book, from her trip to her sister-in-law’s estate to her photographs appearing in a royal exhibition and her visit to the Grand National horse race, revolves around her feelings for Bay. And ridiculously, infuriatingly, it takes almost nothing for her to agree to take him back and marry him on the boat to America at the end.
You don’t really care if I spoil things for you. You’re not really going to read this.
I mean, WHAT??? Her unofficial fiance sleeps with the Empress of Austria MULTIPLE TIMES all while assuring her that she is his true love, and she just takes him back because of his charming smile and pretty face? How is this ok? She’s angry for a little bit when she really figures out what’s going on, but even then, it’s way too easy for Bay to win her back. And for those of you who would argue, “Yes, but they’re going to America so she can pursue photography! She’s leaning in and having it all!” No. She is not. She is choosing to marry a guy who broke up with his imperial mistress because he resented being told what to do, not because he has demonstrated real love, respect, and care for her. If she were really leaning in, she wouldn’t settle for being someone’s second choice, despite her prior claim.
Honestly, I was hoping for a slightly more sophisticated, less tongue-and-cheek version of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. At least in that series, the women have gumption, the men respect their ladies, and books don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s good, intelligent, historical fun. What I got was a limp story, characters that don’t deserve my time let alone my respect, and sloppy and bad writing.
The Fortune Hunter hits shelves July 29, 2014. Don’t waste your time.