This was one of my favorite love stories to read in my teens and early twenties. Maybe like the heroine, Birle, I just have a thing for men with blue eyes and lordly airs, but upon reading it again, I find the draw of the story has always been how both Birle and Orien adapt to each new circumstance as it comes. They adapt for different reasons at different times, sometimes for mere survival, other times because they have their lover’s safety and good in mind, as when Orien puts on a facade, belittling Birle before men who would harm her in order to divert their interests from her.
Cynthia Voigt’s books set in the medieval world of The Kingdom are set apart from other YA fiction both by how well she writes determined young people, their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, all hidden underneath a stoicism alien to many teens today, and by her choice to narrate in the third person. I’ve no objection to first person narrative, but too often it is used in young adult fiction as an “easy” way of connecting with how teens think, and often the efforts are cringeworthy and end up rapidly dating the books. Voigt’s Kingdom books were largely written in the 80s and early 90s, a time when there was a remoteness to youth that is nonexistent today in our culture of social media. In On Fortune’s Wheel, the characters have no one to share their thoughts with except themselves, and occasionally with each other. There’s an almost magical quality to this now, though it used to be how things ordinarily were.
As bewitched as fourteen-year-old Birle is by the older Orien, he is just as enchanted by her, eagerly discussing their different backgrounds and speculating on life with her as if she were his equal right from the start. Third person allows for subtlety that only works well in first person if the first person is an unreliable narrator. Voigt somehow accomplishes the feat of telling how Birle is falling in love with Orien, yet showing how he’s falling for her. It is only Birle who at the end of story is surprised to find that Orien has loved her all along. How easily even women in love doubt their men, but I suppose this is why the men always have to continually work at winning and keeping their women. Just a dynamic of the sexes.
Two other things I took from this reading of the story: People often see themselves in a far different light than they actually are. Both Orien and Birle consider their own faults heavily, but easily bear up under almost every new circumstance thrown their way. They are matched in their readiness to adapt to what must be done to survive, all the time considering themselves too idle, or too gentle towards others, and sometimes even too kind. Both characters continually sell themselves short, but by the end of the tale it is clear that those around them do not, and hold them in high esteem.
The other idea that struck me on this second reading was that people largely remain the same at their core, no matter what they go through. This is especially evident in Birle, who whether starving, a slave, or a rich lady, is not happy doing nothing, striving not to be a burden to those around her, but especially those she loves. In On Fortune’s Wheel she simply grows up into what she at fourteen already was, a independent and spirited young woman to wants to live life on her own terms. Orien, too, wished to live on his own terms, and their life together will be one of continually adapting to each other because that’s what they are choosing to do. It’s romantic in a way that is far deeper than flowers, chocolates, or even kisses ever could be.
Final decision: This book is a keeper and I will surely read it again and save it for my nieces when they are old enough to read it. Don’t even talk to me about how they changed the title. I can’t stand it, but I’m happy if teens are still reading the story.