Set in 1875, Daisy Goodwin has created a story that is both vivid and highly entertaining. I was drawn in immediately, and found myself getting very attached to Charlotte, and suspicious of the motives of everyone around her. She's interested in photography, and would rather spend the evening whittling away in her dark room than being waltzed around a ballroom, however as the sole heiress to the Lennox fortune Charlotte struggles to act as those around her expect.
Everyone has an agenda, from her well meaning brother Fred (no matter how annoying he could be at times) and his grasping fiance Augusta, who's eyes are fixed firmly on the family diamonds to Fred's friend Chicken Hartopp, whose attempts at wooing Charlotte leave a lot to be desired. She wants to marry for love, and is in the position to wait
Enter the dashing Captain 'Bay' Middleton, who dazzles Charlotte with his good looks and charms. Bay frustrated me very much, and I questioned his motives constantly. Charlotte's innocence and individuality certainly seemed to draw him in, but then he is hardly a wallflower, as evidenced early in the book. He is incredibly attached to his horse Tipsy, and dreams of winning the Grand National.
Throw the spoilt, entitled Empress Sisi into the mix and this book really had me chomping at the bit. I couldn't stand Sisi. Selfish and demanding, she has come to England to attend the fox hunting season, and is piloted by Captain Middleton as he is arguably the best rider in the cavalry and the only one who can keep up with Sisi, who was a renowned horsewoman. It was obvious that the beautiful, yet vain Sisi and Middleton would fall into each others arms thus bringing forward a captivating struggle between love, and duty for all characters enchantingly brought to life - aimed at tugging at the heartstrings, and testing patience.
Goodwin handles the subject matter with such authenticity and delicacy that despite my initial dislike for Sisi (which make no mistake, stayed with me very strongly until the end of the book) I even sympathised with her situation and motivations at times. Even with all the privilege of royalty and all the trappings that come with it, Sisi would forever be condemned to live half a life in the end.
The love triangle is vaguely authentic, all three main characters were very much real - Bay really did pilot Sisi and Bay and Charlotte really did became engaged in 1875 as in the story. Goodwin concedes that she has taken creative license in places, such as Charlotte's passion for photography to flesh out her character, and other events. Goodwin does it very well, and as a reader I didn't question the events in the book. I have to admit I was quite taken with the story, although the ending was predictable it was entirely satisfying.