The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton



In 1705 Amsterdam, Thea Brandt is coming of age, trying to grapple with her family’s secrets and her own identity as a young Dutch-African woman. She’s drawn to the theater and an artistic life, but with her family in serious financial decline, pressure is on Thea to marry up in society. As her father and Aunt Nella work desperately to save the family home, Thea seeks refuge in the arms of her secret lover, Walter, the chief set-painter at her favourite theatre.

Thea’s birthday also marks the day her mother, Marin, died in childbirth, however her family refuses to share the details of the story, just as they seem terrified to speak of the shadowy artist from their past whose tiny figurines seem to capture the things most carefully hidden away. But when a miniature figure of Walter turns up on Thea’s doorstep, it becomes clear that someone out there has another fate in mind for the family- and that perhaps the new beginning Thea seeks won’t depend on a man.


The House of Fortune is a sequel to the best-selling The Miniaturist which was the author’s debut novel and has since been turned into a major television series. The book is set eighteen years after the previous one as we celebrate the birthday of Thea Brandt, the mixed race daughter of Marin Brandt and Otto, a former slave, who was brought into the family by Marin’s brother, Johannes.

Thea knows very little about the death of her mother and is becoming increasingly frustrated by the secrets her father and Aunt Nella are keeping from her. Nella and Otto have done their best to protect Thea over the years but the family fortunes have dwindled to crisis point and the only way to secure their future in Amsterdam is for Thea to make a good marriage. However, they have never been able to escape the scandal of Johannes’ execution which has severely damaged their reputation in business and society. Nella faces an uphill struggle even without factoring in Thea’s mixed heritage but her niece’s debut at a prestigious society ball ends up being a disaster.

Thea finds comfort looking through her mother’s belongings in the attic but she makes an unexpected discovery when she finds miniature versions of her parents tucked away in a trunk. Intrigued, Thea has lots of questions about who made them and why they are hidden away but she knows she will get no answers from her family. Instead, Thea takes one of her mother’s incredibly detailed maps and sells it to fund her escape from Amsterdam. For Thea has a secret of her own – she is in love with a man called Walter who is a scenery painter at her favourite theatre. Thea has already given herself to this man and plans on running away with him.

However, Thea’s plans are disrupted when she finds a miniature version of Walter in a package on the doorstep one morning which both disturbs and intrigues her as it is obvious the miniature was created by the same artist as those hidden in the trunk. As further miniatures are left on the doorstep, including a house and a tiny pineapple, Thea is determined to discover the identity of the miniaturist but her investigations leads her to discovering Walter is not who he claims to be. However, the truth comes too late for Thea who is already carrying his child.

When Nella discovers the miniaturist has returned it is very unsettling but she has no time to dwell on it as Thea falls gravely ill and then disappears. When Nella learns the truth about the affair with Walter, the miniatures begin to make sense and she realises where Thea has gone. All the clues lead Nella back to her neglected childhood home and the eventual realisation that the answer to their future has been staring her in the face.

The Miniaturist seemed such a complete novel that it was surprising to discover a sequel was in the works but The House of Fortune is nowhere near as good as its predecessor and somewhat unnecessary. Nella, Otto and Cordelia, all characters from the first novel, have been practical prisoners in the house in Amsterdam with their entire focus on raising Thea and protecting her from the truth about what happened to her mother and uncle. The family have become increasingly impoverished over the years and are running out of things to sell so all their hopes have become pinned on Thea’s marital prospects. The house is full of secrets, old and new, so it is obvious the inhabitants have not learned a thing.

Apart from the things left on the doorstep, the miniaturist barely has a role in this novel and it is such a disappointment as we are kept in the dark about why she appears to be watching the family again, particularly Thea, and why she felt the need to lead them on a new path.