Wesley Stace
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Buy *Misfortune* online

Wesley Stace
Back Bay Books
560 pages
April 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Lord Loveall is at his wits' end. His mother is on her deathbed, his beloved younger sister and boon companion, Delores, died in infancy, and there is no heir to the family fortune, threatened by the imminent advances of greedy relatives. In a shocking act of good fortune, Lord Loveall and his coachman discover an infant in a trash heap on the outskirts of London and recover the infant from certain death. In a tizzy of delight, Lord Loveall returns home with the purloined bundle and plans for his family's future and secured inheritance.

The new babe, Lady Rose Loveall, is the heir to the Loveall fortune, Love Hall Manor and the prestigious family name, keeping from the disingenuous relatives. Lord Loveall names the baby Rose after his deceased sister, in spite of the fact that she is a he - a small impediment for a man who is used to having his every whim accommodated. Then there is the matter of the baby's origin. The event is later the theme for a ballad printed in a popular broadsheet of the time, the tale of The Rose and the Briar.

Acquiescing to the appearance of propriety, Lord Loveall marries Love Hall's former nanny, now official librarian, creating an instant family for the new member of the Loveall dynasty, Baby Rose. Lord Loveall's wife is a devotee of Mary Day, a woman whose writing espouses the theory that the masculine and feminine are integrated in each person. In deference to Lord Loveall's wishes, the family plays out the ruse that the child is a female, without consideration for the eventual effects of gender-confusion.

Little Rose remains ignorant of her sexual ambiguity until her father's death. By then the child is comfortable in her compromised identity, although cautiously planning ahead toward an announcement of her true gender. But all is thrown into confusion by events, the heir exposed and dispossessed of everything familiar. It is these new surroundings that challenge Rose's mettle, life in the real world and an adjustment to the difficulties of gender identification.

The author tackles a difficult topic with compassion, creating a multi-dimensional protagonist beset with choices that are dangerous and frightening and seemingly impossible to resolve. Rose has never harmed another but is a creature caught in circumstances beyond her control in Victorian London, adrift in a society defined by moral rigidity, enduring contempt and scorn by those who are all too willing to judge.

Misfortune struggles somewhat with its own identity crisis, drifting between fiction and fairy tale as Rose's path veers from Mistress/Master to fugitive on the fringes of society. Through the skillful manipulation of facts, secrets long-hidden in the family tree are providentially resolved and Rose's future assured. Patterned after the English adventure novel, Misfortune has all the drama, behind-the-scenes machinations and ill-fated, much-abused heroine/hero in a complex plot with an adequate serving of jealous, greedy relatives to usurp the family home - the perfect stage for the tormented Rose, embattled, embittered and triumphant.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Luan Gaines, 2005

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