I’ve noticed Deanna Raybourn popping up on a few reviews lately, and it seemed like the second novel in this series was well received so I decided to start with this one. I will say that to me this was definitely a case of the novel and the cover not matching. Fortunately, I had read some reviews so I wasn’t expecting steam punk, but with the font on that cover, my first guess absolutely would have been that this was a steam punk novel.
Veronica Speedwell, the novel’s protagonist, is a thoroughly modern woman in 1887 England – in fact she is anachronistically modern, and in way that is actually distracting rather than fun (I read romance, I am used to women being more modern than they should be). While she lived with two aunt guardians for most of her life, she also supported herself through work in the natural sciences as a butterfly collector, and has gone on several expeditions throughout the world. Veronica also has engaged in several short love affairs but only while on expedition, and never in England, and certainly never with an Englishman. After her last guardian dies, Veronica places an announcement of her death in the paper, and prepares for a final departure from the village, only for an older German baron to show up and say he knew her parents, and to thwart a break in at her house.
While I can certainly see the appeal of Veronica’s no nonsense approach, I also found her frustrating. A man breaks into her home, her savior ends up murdered, and she still doesn’t want to believe this has anything to do with her, despite her rather odd upbringing. I mean, I am all for science and reasoning, but I don’t feel like she was using it here, and suffered from a lack of imagination. Also, I felt like she was inconsistent, being skeptical of an idea one page only to suddenly make it seem like she had supported that theory all along by the end of the chapter or vice versa.
Before the baron is killed, he drops her off with his friend Stoker for protection. Stoker is also a natural historian, and the antagonistic interactions between Stoker and Veronica are the key strengths of the novel. After Stoker finds out about the baron’s death, he believes that he and Veronica are in danger, and decides they need to go into hiding. Veronica comes along somewhat reluctantly, since she is still not convinced this has anything to do with her, and hi jinks before leading to the final confrontation and resolution of the novel.
Overall, it showed promise, I liked the interactions between Stoker and Veronica, I liked Stoker’s rich friends (less so his carnival friends), and even liked the plot reveal that the story was centered around. I think Raybourn went too far in creating her practical heroine because she was off putting to me rather than intriguing and inspiring, but the novel was also entertaining enough that I would probably read the second novel in the series before making any final decisions.