Written by Wesley Stace
Review by Margaret Barr

In his debut novel, Stace, better known as musician John Wesley Harding, effectively and entertainingly emulates a Victorian picaresque novel. The twist: his heroine is really a hero. Wealthy landowner Lord Loveall rescues an abandoned baby and takes it home to Love Hall, his country estate. Effeminate and style-conscious, the young aristocrat requires an heir. As homage to his beloved and long-dead sister Dolores, he decides to adopt the infant, naming her Rose. When his mother points out that the child is male, Loveall not only decides to ignore this fact, but he takes the household librarian as wife and passes the baby off as their offspring.

Rose grows up in the most privileged of circumstances, surrounded by luxury, affection, and fanciful parents. As she ages, she is perplexed by the differences between herself and her playmate Sarah, and certain similarities shared with Sarah’s brother Stephen. With adolescence and budding sexuality come even greater awareness of physical and emotional differences—and considerable pain. Rose’s mother has her own reasons for supporting the deception, until Loveall’s death incites change. The discovery of Rose’s secret within the wider family results in a reversal of fortunes. Cast off as the Loveall heir, her/his search for self takes the character to exotic lands, and brings her/him back to a London depicted in all its Dickensian richness and grim misery. The private struggle towards acceptance of a dual nature is supported by the durability of friendships and love of all sorts.

This highly imaginative tale is stuffed with oddities—bizarre situations, unusual characters, memorable incidents. Although the world-building at times seems heavy-handed and sometimes takes the story off-track, more often it serves to enhance. In format and in flavor, Misfortune succeeds overall, and will likely appeal to a variety of readers.