London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.
But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth. (Summary from Amazon.com.)
I’ve read and enjoyed the first few Lady Julia Grey books, so I was excited to learn that Raybourn has begun a new mystery series featuring intrepid lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell. Unfortunately, this book really didn’t work for me. It’s a good read in the sense that it’s well written and moves quickly, but I couldn’t get over my dislike of both Veronica and her partner/love interest, Stoker. Historical fiction can be difficult because the protagonists should be realistic for their time period but also sympathetic to modern readers. Veronica errs on the side of being far too modern for her era. She pursues a scientific career by traveling all over the world without a chaperone, and she engages in a variety of sexual affairs, apparently without any consequences to her reputation as a gentlewoman. I simply didn’t find her believable. As for Stoker, he’s a generic brooding alpha male type, and that’s basically all you need to know. It’s not a bad book, by any means, but it didn’t deliver what I look for in historical fiction.