“Life would have been much easier if I believed in fairy tales,” remarks Fortunata at the beginning of Fortune’s Folly. Unfortunately, life for Fortunata and her father has been far too hard of late; since his wife’s death, Fortunata’s father, formerly a prize-winning shoemaker, has completely lost his talent and is now only able to make ill-fitting shoes in preposterous designs.
Forced to flee their home city after the enterprising Fortunata outsmarts and infuriates a powerful man, Fortunata and her father fall in with a traveling performance troupe. From the group’s clever fortune-teller, Fortunata learns the art of prognostication, which, she discovers, has infinitely more to do with observation and careful guesswork than with supernatural powers.
Fortunata soon develops her own reputation as a skilled fortune-teller, a skill that will be sorely tested in the city of Doma. There she is enlisted to predict a future path for Prince Leonato, a handsome but unconfident youth. Fortunata concocts a dangerous, romantic, wildly unlikely future for Leonato—only to learn that if these events don’t come true, Fortunata’s beloved father will be put to death. Can Fortunata take destiny into her own hands—and maybe find love (and a little magic) along the way?
In her debut novel, Deva Fagan cleverly slips elements of several beloved fairy tales, from “Cinderella” to “Rapunzel,” into her story, playfully turning these old motifs on their heads. Although the novel’s basic plot (girl meets unattainable boy, the two fall in love, complications ensue, love conquers all) might seem a little like a fairy tale itself, Fortunata’s pragmatic outlook and slyly witty narration make the novel thoroughly modern. This tough, creative, fearless heroine will give readers someone to root for—whether they believe in fairy tales or not.
Norah Piehl is a writer and editor who lives near Boston.