A Review for A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

GUEST POST – teachergirl73

Susanna Kearsley is by far one of my favourite authors, and her being a Canadian is like the icing on the cake. After suffering through required Canadian literature in high school, i.e.The Stone Angel (shudder) I was ready to swear off Canadian authors altogether. A very distressing prospect since I’m a proud Canadian and believe we should support our arts and culture. The often seriously depressing overtones that seem to riddle many of Canada’s literary greats was more than I could handle. Isn’t real life hard enough on its own? Do we have to wallow in the extreme miseries which seem to follow the protagonists in Canadian literature? It is only cold part of the year and sometimes not even that in Vancouver!

So when I discovered Susanna Kearsley via a recommendation from my BFF, I was pleasantly surprised and later as I consumed more of her novels, overjoyed at the fact that here was a Canadian author I really loved to read!


What I love most about Kearsley’s books is the way that she simultaneously weaves the threads of two stories, one in the past and one in the present, pulling the reader often into a mystery that needs to be solved in both places. If you enjoyed Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, then you would probably enjoy Kearsley’s novels, even though they don’t involve time travel as such, they follow a similar pattern of flipping between the past and present stories with lots of intrigue and romance rolled into both.


Her background and training as a former museum curator, ensures that her details are meticulously well-researched and authentic, which enhances her stories. Kearsley’s commitment to details means that she is also able to paint the most magnificent settings, which inevitably leaves me wanting to hop on a plane and head off to Scotland, or Wales or France to her latest location and go find my own adventures.


From GoodreadsFor 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.  


A Desperate Fortune begins in the present with a young woman named Sara Thomas, who lives in the London area and is at loose ends. She’s an unemployed computer programmer, with Asperger’s Syndrome, which falls under the umbrella of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Individuals with an Asperger’s diagnosis, just like any ASD diagnosis can have wide-ranging symptoms impacting each person very differently. In Sara’s case, she seems to be very high-functioning, and as an adult has developed excellent coping mechanisms to help her get through daily life. Sara’s cousin Jacqui, a book editor, introduces her to one of her author’s, Alistair Scott, a historian in need of a code breaker to decipher a journal for his research for his latest book. It is at this point that Sara’s life takes a detour and she finally starts to live.

Sara’s new job takes her to France to decode a journal by a young woman, by the name of Mary Dundas, who lived in France during the early 18th century and who’s journal holds important Jacobite secrets that Alistair needs. As Sara decodes Mary’s long forgotten journal, we start to see how the intricate the web of secrets and lies were for the Jacobites, the supporters of the exiled King James VIII of Scotland, who believed that the Stuarts were the “rightful” heirs to the British throne. As the young Mary, gets swept up into the intrigue, the reader is taken on a fascinating journey from Paris, through France and eventually ending up in Rome at the court of King James. Mary learns some heart-breaking lessons through her journey, and Sara begins to realize that her own life could have more fullness as she meets Luc, the neighbour next door, who manages to shake Sara’s belief system and show her all of the possibilities of the world.

Overall, A Desperate Fortune is an enjoyable read, one that I felt improved as the story developed. At the beginning, I wasn’t grabbed in the same way as I have been in the past with Kearsley’s novels, such as The Winter Sea or Mariana, but as the plot filled out, I was completely engrossed in the story. Kearsley’s romantic flare manages to pull off the best PG-rated love scenes that I’ve ever encountered. When I shared that musing with my BFF, her response was, “Why can’t she turn up the heat a little?” All kidding aside, Kearsley has once again delivered a novel ripe with romance, history, and intrigue. I particularly liked at the end of the story, Kearsley included a detailed explanation of how her characters came to be developed and I thought it was the perfect touch to what turned out to be a lovely novel.


Photo By: Ashleigh Bonang
Photo By: Ashleigh Bonang

Susanna Kearsley studied politics and international development at university, and has worked as a museum curator.

Her first novel Mariana won the prestigious Catherine Cookson Literary Prize and launched her writing career. Susanna continued her mix of the historical and paranormal in novels The Splendour Falls, Named of the Dragon, Shadowy Horses and Season of Storms.

Susanna Kearsley also writes classic-style thrillers under the name of Emma Cole.



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