Kirkus Reviews QR Code
HER HEART FOR A COMPASS by Sarah Ferguson Kirkus Star


by Sarah Ferguson with Marguerite Kaye

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-06-297652-9
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A headstrong heroine—the daughter of a duke—fights her way through Victorian mores to self-realization.

Ferguson, the Duchess of York, author of many children's books, weight-loss guides, and memoirs, collaborates here with Marguerite Kaye, a Scottish writer of historical romances, to create a vivid, juicy, and well-researched novel set in Victorian England and New York City. When we first meet Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott, it is 1865 and she is an 18-year-old with a 19-inch waist being led like a lamb to the slaughter to the London ballroom where everyone who's anyone has gathered to hear her father, the Duke of Buccleuch (a world-class asshole, not to put too fine a point on it), announce her engagement to the cold, repellent Earl of Killin. "Our estates have lots of sheep. He has woollen mills. In more ways than one, it will be a marriage made in heaven," says her father. Lady Margaret begs to differ—and rather than enter the hall, she bolts, though she has never before ventured beyond the garden gate of the manor. A friend of her father's tries to stop her to no avail as she rushes without a plan into the wilds of the urban landscape, strikingly evoked with particular attention to the olfactory. She meets her first poor person—a Crimean war veteran who has lost his legs—resulting in an awakening that will shape the rest of her life. We follow her into her late 20s, through exile in Ireland, across the Atlantic, and back, the narrative supplemented by newspaper articles and letters from her friends and family. Like her fictional contemporary Jo March, Margaret has great hair, a gift for writing, a feminist spirit, and a drive to help others; in a clever touch, she buys a stack of signed copies of Little Women for her friends back home. Several of the titled characters are based on Ferguson's ancestors, and her understanding of peerage protocol seems more than just research-based.

Fans of Downton Abbey will revel in everything they love about a big, fat 19th-century yarn.