This story is a departure from Ms. Stuart’s previous works. The hero was not as tortured, and there was almost a light-hearted tone throughout the story. Maybe the term would be dim, not dark, but not truly light either.
Nicholas Strangefellow is not what he seems. The King’s Fool is anything but, and his surname certainly suits him. Nicholas prides himself on driving those around him crazy with his antics, rhyming, sleight of hand, and double entendres. All of these mask his ambitions to regain that which was lost to him. When ordered to retrieve the Chalice of St. Hugelina the Dragon, Nicholas is one step closer to achieving his goal. Plus, Nicholas is always on the look out for a new lady friend with whom to dally.
Lady Julianna of Moncrieff is not mourning her much older deceased husband, Victor. She is mourning the fact that she must join her estranged mother, Isabeau, at Fortham Castle. Julianna has no claim on Moncrieff, since Victor has a grown son. Julianna’s marriage was agonizing and she is hoping to join a nunnery. Julianna was only 11 when she began her marriage, and has never forgiven her mother for allowing her father to barter her away to the lecherous and ancient Victor.
Nicholas and Julianna meet on the voyage to Fortham Castle, the location of the Chalice. Nicholas wastes no time in starting his campaign to seduce and torment Julianna. Julianna delivers a few snappy comebacks of her own, however.
Nicholas finds himself drawn to Julianna’s quiet spirit and innate decency. He steadfastly maintains his own emotional illusion that she is just another conquest, to the point that it has unfortunate and painful consequences for Julianna.
Julianna is truly no match for Nicholas. He disturbs her on many levels, not the least of which is physically. Julianna hates and fears physical interactions. Eventually, she responds to his roguish charm, and who could blame her?
There is an abundance of plot in this book. The secondary characters of Isabeau and Sir Hugh, the owner of Fortham Castle, have their own romance. Conflict appears in the form of a loathsome abbot, Father Paulus, who has agendas of his own concerning the Chalice.
For this reviewer, the sexual tension that Ms. Stuart excels in, seemed underdone and lacking. I was also drawn out of the story due to an implausibility involving a wish Julianna makes on the Chalice. Even though she is naive and believes in the power of the sacred object, she should have realized Nicholas was manipulating her, especially given her knowledge of his character.
Still, Ms. Stuart has provided another compelling read with Lady Fortune. And just who is St. Hugelina the Dragon? The answer to that question waits for you within these pages. She’s an interesting one, make no mistake. Enjoy the journey!