A Perilous Beginning
by Deanna Raybourn
Book 2 of Veronica Speedwell
London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.
From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....
I'm going to admit, the excitement of this series kind of faded after a while, and that refreshing feel you get from a first book that starts off a series strong might have worn off. Nonetheless, I still loved reading A Perilous Undertaking a lot, and continue to enjoy the interactions between Veronica and Stoker--these two create a really strong, intimate, yet not quite romantic relationship and partnership that feels, at times, even deeper than a lot of romantic couplings I've read before.
Admittedly, this second book didn't seem to carry the same "flashy new gift" feel you get from discovering a lovely new favorite book--the giddiness I felt for the previous book didn't rear its head. After finishing the read, I'd say that I like the first book, A Curious Beginning (my review) more. Although it doesn't escape my notice that the story set-up is much more to the point in this second book; in contrast to A Curious Beginning, this second book doesn't spend endless pages taking you on a side tangent that seems unnecessary in the long run.
I'm not sure how I feel about that, because it has long been one of the complaints I've had about Deanna Raybourn's work since the Lady Julia Grey series--the fact that she spends way too much time building each book's story, world, and introductory.
So I found myself pleasantly surprised at how quickly A Perilous Undertaking hopped right into the murder mystery, bringing Veronica and Stoker into the investigation without dawdling.
Coupled with Raybourn's beautiful writing style, and this book would be darn near perfect for me.
While the first book in this series seemed to focus on Veronica on a more personal level, it feels like this second book is a simple, typical murder mystery; and somehow Veronica and Stoker get entangled in the entire, convoluted twists. In fact, I sort of got a "cozy mystery" vibe from it, though I suppose it wouldn't be far-fetched to label this book a 'Cozy.'
We still get to touch upon some of the family secrets surrounding Veronica and how she's been affected since the big reveal in the previous book. And, just as well, we also get to touch upon some personal history of Stoker's--we even get to meet two more siblings in the Templeton-Vane family.
While the murder mystery seemed quite predictable, I can't say it wasn't outlined well. The progression was great, and the red herrings were placed appropriately. Related characters were colorful and intriguing in their own way. I just also get a bit frustrated with characters who get all "I'm not telling you anything even if it could help an innocent man go free" for whatever strange reasons that I didn't really understand, to be honest. Moving past that, the overall story was still lovely and I enjoyed following Veronica and Stoker in their investigations.
And, as always, I enjoy the character interactions a lot, especially between Veronica and others. She's a very likable woman, with all the traits of a strong, independent heroine, which is why I love her so much. She's also quite indifferent to how others perceive her, and pretty much just does as she pleases. Her banter with Stoker is probably the best parts of the book.
If there was one thing I'd have to say I had trouble with, it would be that Veronica's character feels a lot more... deliberate in this book than the previous. It feels like the author has taken many pains to make sure of the emphasis on Veronica's open independence in everything she says or does, from how she lives her life, to her unabashed love of sexual dalliances, to her indifferent, blasé feelings about how people view her. In agreement with some other reviewers, there may not be much explicit sex in this book, but it certainly is mentioned A LOT, and by Veronica, no less. I've read hardcore erotica where the characters don't even talk about sex this much.
But it's not just about Veronica's open views about sex that are deliberately emphasized. It's her entire demeanor from her ideas about the heart, feelings, the way she interacts with other characters. Even her stubbornness in always being right or always being in charge of everything--as Stoker DOES point out at some point, indirectly. While I love that she's so confident in herself, and I love that she's not shy about it, I feel like the way it was presented just felt too calculated from the author's side--as if the readers aren't already aware that Veronica is so free with her life and thoughts, and we need to be reminded over and again with every action and dialogue, all of it kind of blatantly aggressively presented.
Veronica may not fit into the setting's time frame, and is probably way too forward thinking for the era she lives in to feel real. And, truth be told, I love her straight forward, Devil May Care personality, just fine. But she is sometimes, throughout the book, presented as way too perfect, even in spite of some of the flaws the author gives her.
I'm not sure I know how to describe it properly, honestly; but the "in your face" way that Veronica's attributes are presented... it can get a little eye-roll-inducing at times.
Nonetheless, A Perilous Undertaking is still an exceptionally enjoyable book. And I loved it! And I am definitely looking forward to the third book.
This book is tagged as 'mystery.'
Page Count: 345
Case Award: +$3.00
Current Bank: $23.00