I had somehow forgotten how much I love Deanna Raybourn’s prose. I will not forget again. I think I highlighted more passages in this book than I have for any other before. I will try not to bog down this review with all of them, and to leave you some tidbits of joy to discover for yourself should you chose to read it.
In 1887 Veronica Speedwell is a young woman (mid 20s) who was raised by her ‘aunts’, two women who adopted her as an infant. Veronica is a lepidopterist, and has traveled all over the world collecting her butterfly specimens. She is a true scientist, and while she does not live a luxurious life, selling her rare finds pays for her existence and each successive expedition. The second of her aunts has just died and left Veronica alone in the world. She intends to leave her small town and head out on her next expedition. Instead she runs in to a man breaking in to her home who tries to abduct her. She is rescued by a mysterious benefactor who claims to have knowledge of her parents. He drops her off with a mysterious man named Stoker and the story takes off from there. There is a murder and it appears that someone is framing Stoker for it. Veronica and Stoker head off to try and solve the murder, clear his name, and ensure her safety.
Veronica is a lovely, strong woman who knows her own mind. She is subject to the events around her, but never a victim. (“I took a sip of the tea, pleased to find it scalding hot and properly strong. I abhorred weakness of any kind but most particularly in my tea”.) She has taken lovers in the past on her various trips, but refuses to take them seriously or to take a lover back in England. (“Foreign bachelors were my trophies, collected for their charm and good looks as well as attentive manners.”) There were many things about her that often felt a little too modern, but then I decided that there were surely women ahead of their time, and this fictional one might as well be it.
Stoker is the more vulnerable character and unsure of himself, and I liked seeing Veronica push him to take control of his life. They share of love of science and travel. (“Something about his quickness of mind, his determination to live by his own lights, had called to me. I recognized his nature as my own.”) He has some secrets from his past that are still secrets at the end of the book, but Veronica figures out many things on her own and balances well confronting him with her knowledge and letting him live with himself.
There was an extremely strong strain of feminism (toeing the line of misandry) in this book and I was HERE for it. I am happy for the snippy tone critiquing women’s place in society and the role men have played putting them there. Bring on the bitching I say!
- “We are, as a gender, undereducated and infantilized to the point of idiocy. But those of us who have been given the benefit of learning and useful occupation, well, we are proof that the traditional notions of feminine delicacy and helplessness are the purest poppycock.”
- “It is men who have kept women downtrodden and poorly educated, so burdened by domesticity and babies they can scarcely raise their heads.”
- re: men’s treatment of women: “…your sex has held the reins of power for too long. And I daresay you will not turn them loose without a fight.”
There was enough action to keep me on my toes, and enough promise of romance to assure me of the eventual happy ending. (“For those of us who liked our men well roughened, his appearance was the fulfillment of a lifetime’s dreaming of pirates and ne’er-do-well rogues.”) The conclusion of the mystery was fairly obvious early on, but I still very much enjoyed the process of getting there. I did not love this one as much as Raybourn’s earlier Lady Julia Grey novels, but it was a really strong start to a new series and I’m on the wait list for the next one from the library. These books are pricey, so I can’t bring myself to actually pay for them. BUT, this one is on sale for $3 right now (2/13), so now would be a good time to grab it if it interests you.