It wasn't enough for Wesley Stace to be a successful musician and a devastatingly handsome guy; he had to go and write a novel as well. And it's not just any novel. Stace—aka folk singer John Wesley Harding—makes his fiction debut with a rollicking adventure told in classic bawdy-romance style. Considering that Stace leads something of a double life himself, it makes sense for his fiction debut to be built upon secret identities, parallels and opposites and the things that bind them together.

 Stace—aka folk singer John Wesley Harding—makes his fiction debut with a rollicking adventure told in classic bawdy-romance style.

In a nice example of one persona feeding off another, the inspiration for Stace's novel came from a Harding song, "The Ballad of Miss Fortune." Harding recorded the song, in which a rich English lord rescues an abandoned baby boy and raises him as a girl, in 1997, but found that his alter ego wasn't quite finished with the story. In Misfortune, Rose is that abandoned baby. For mysterious reasons he's rushed from a house in the slums of 1820s London and carried into the forest by a dimwitted child called Pharaoh. Easily distracted, Pharaoh sets down the bundle he's meant to dispose of, and Rose is found by the Young Lord Geoffroy Loveall.

The eccentric Young Lord still (after two decades) mourns his baby sister, Dolores. He's also under pressure from his overbearing mother to produce an heir. The foundling solves both problems at once. Except, of course, that this baby is not a new Dolores, but a boy. Geoffroy's on the brink of mental collapse, though, so the household goes along with his charade to save his sanity. This makes Rose's adolescence even more awkward than the usual.

By making Rose's search for identity a literal one, Stace sets the stage for a meditation on deciding exactly who you want to be. The book gets a little more florid than necessary toward the end, particularly because by then Stace has set out a number of mysteries you can't help wishing he would speed toward their solutions. But it's good fun to follow Rose on the journey to discover him/herself.

Becky Ohlsen is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

 

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