Mini-Review: Deanna Raybourn’s AN UNEXPECTED PERIL

An_Unexpected_PerilAn Unexpected Peril is the sixth “Veronica Speedwell” Victorian-Era-set mystery Raybourn has penned and as solid an addition to one of my favourite series as any. While the mystery component didn’t engage as well as the previous two volumes, the marvelous A Dangerous Collaboration and A Murderous Relation, Veronica and lover-and-fellow-sleuth, Stoker, were as charming, sharp, and funny as ever, with, on Veronica’s part, a tenderness and vulnerability that made me like her even more. As for Stoker: his candy-eating, Keats-quoting, animal-obsessed nerdiness, broad shoulders, and good looks, are easy to love. His love for Veronica and one heart-stopping avowal in this volume would make him irresistible to any romance reader. But first, to the mystery, best recounted by the novel’s descriptor:

January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club–an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women–Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela’s chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves–and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears. Having noted Veronica’s resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica’s own family–the royalty who has never claimed her.

That final element, the family “who has never claimed her” and her love for Stoker make for a new facet to Veronica: the young woman who never belonged suddenly belongs to someone, the child who yearned for family has it in her grasp. But the years of solitude, solitary adventure, and a certain steeling of the heart have rendered Veronica uncomfortable with attachment, and Stoker, loving, funny, astute, gorgeous Stoker, drives a stake through the heart of Veronica’s strikes-out-on-her-own existence and scares her more than any villain. And this is the best part of An Unexpected Peril.

I was, at first, quite engrossed by the mystery: Stoker and Veronica’s involvement with the exhibition, the murdered mountaineering adventuress, and the kingdom’s aloof, but attractive princess, the sycophants and hangers-on who surround her drew me in. Yet the mystery, after the initial excitement, lumbered along; by the second-half, I didn’t much care how it would be resolved, and when it was, the resolution proved abrupt and anticlimactic.

What pleased and delighted were Veronica and Stoker: vulnerably new at love without losing, on Veronica’s part, her acerbic wit; and, on Stoker’s, his charming grumpiness. Over the course of the series, however, Raybourn has slowly and surely and finely imprinted onto their characters, depth of maturity and feeling. Having consummated their attraction and admitted mutual affection, Veronica and Stoker navigate not its heady newness, but the realization this is no fleeting love affair but the makings of a life-long commitment. Needless to say Stoker takes to love like an otter to water; Veronica, on the other hand, flounders, not in her love for Stoker, but in realizing he, and others, friends she’s come to love, are necessary to her; early on, Veronica admits: “Between her departure and that of Tiberius, I felt abandoned by my friends, a state of affairs I would not have credited only a year before. I was accustomed to living my life unfettered as one of my beloved butterflies, and these new bonds of attachment brought with them not only connection and warmth but a dreadful sensation of loss when my companions were not present.” Veronica’s love for Stoker is no less strange to her: “For now that I had joined myself in affection to Stoker, I could no longer run from myself as I had once so blithely done. I must, instead, sit and face my demons.” 

Veronica only possesses one fear: that of the solitary who is no longer alone, counting a great love and friends and realizing she is frightened of losing what she didn’t know she needed. Nothing is farther from Stoker’s mind and yet, Veronica experiences uncertainty, doubt, and her vulnerability has Raybourn pen one of the great love avowals in romance fiction: “A sudden dart of fear lanced my heart. It thudded awkwardly in my chest. “I would hope that I am counted among the good that has happened to you,” I said, summoning a smile. He did not return it. He leant forward a little and cupped my chin in the breadth of his palm. “You are not.” The thud in my chest became a hammering, slow and painful on the ribs. “Oh.” He went on. “You are not among the good that has happened to me. You are the best of all that I have known … ” What follows, dear reader, must be read to be savored and enjoyed because there is much, much more of what Stoker has to say to Veronica.

It didn’t matter, in the end, this wasn’t Raybourn’s most compelling mystery. The call of “Excelsior” to those who love the series as much as I do is still strong. And to those who haven’t yet, you have the pleasure of starting with Veronica and Stoker’s meeting and first adventure in A Curious Beginning and plunging into a glorious glom. For this reader, with her companion in reading adventures, Miss Austen, An Unexpected Peril offers “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Deanna Raybourn’s An Unexpected Peril is published by Berkley. It was released on March 2nd and may be found, along with the series’ first five novels, at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley, from Berkley, via Netgalley.

16 thoughts on “Mini-Review: Deanna Raybourn’s AN UNEXPECTED PERIL

  1. OK, I am determined to finally delve into this series! I am already following at least half a dozen historical mystery series, and adding another one seems daunting, but you make it too tempting to resist.

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    • Woo hoo!!!! I’m saluting you with my coffee cup!!! Sorrynotsorry, but you’re going to love it and I’m right there with you regarding the historical mystery series follows … new Seb./Hero/Baby Simon St. Cyr coming up early April. Just sayin’. 😉

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      • I have been making good progress lately, catching up on Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford & Sloane series, and only 3 books behind on the Lady Darby series. However when a new St. Cyr book comes out, everything else must wait! Also, I discovered an unexpectedly good .99 book, Mysterious Lover by Mary Lancaster. She is a very prolific author, and often her books are cheap, or even giveaways, but this one has a mystery plot and is a step above her usual romances. The hero is a Hungarian revolutionary, and I loved that this is the first time I’ve ever seen a spectacles-wearing heroine actually shown wearing her glasses on the cover of the book!

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        • I have the latest Penrose patiently waiting for me! And the first two Verity Kents and the first Lady Darby too … BUT LIFE STOPS FOR SEB!!! And Hero and Baby Simon.

          I’m all for spectacle-wearing heroines, as I am one myself! Happy reading!

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  2. Okay, okay–you have convinced me to give this series another try. I bombed out of the first book after 50 pages because Veronica got on my one nerve. Of course, at that time, I was still unhappy with the outcome of the last Lady Julia book. Maybe I should have waited longer before starting her new series. Whatever… I’m ready now!
    I already have the new CS Harris book on hold at the library. Reading the latest adventures of Sebastian, Hero, and young Simon is one of my Spring high points.

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    • Hmmm, while I loved the first book, and all of them, really, I can see why Veronica can be annoying and unlikeable, even while Stoker is ALWAYS loveable and likeable. BUT, there be reasons and some of them are explored in this volume. So, if you stick with it, Veronica will continue to be sharp, even cold, definitely snarky, but you’ll come to appreciate why. She is QUITE vulnerable in this one …

      I hope it works for you this time!! And I hope you get Seb and Hero and Baby Simon in your hands on release day!!!

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  3. Ever since I read your recommendation of the Veronica Speedwell series, I have read each book with glee and have now arrived at _An Unexpected Peril_. I agree that it’s not Raybourn’s finest, but it’s still good, and I am enjoying every word of it.
    I have a question for you–After finishing the book prior to this one, I watched a PBS series, _Miss Scarlet and the Duke_, and I noticed some similarities between Raybourn’s duo and the protagonists in the television show. Both stories are set in the Victorian era, and both involve a spunky heroine who intends to live her life as a professional and a man who befriends her but is not always keen on the paths she takes. The dialogue in MS&TD is not near as witty as Veronica and Stoker’s, but it is pretty close for television. Anyway, without giving away too much, I wonder if you have come across Miss Scarlet and the Duke on PBS and if so, what are your thoughts?
    I am most intrigued by how stories depend so heavily on the heat of attraction but not the culmination of it. The delay seems to frustrate Raybourn’s readers, but it is central to MS&TD.
    Thank you again for another illuminating review.
    Jessie

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    • Dr.J, how lovely to hear from you! And, of course, it’s my pleasure, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I did, indeed, watch Miss Scarlet and the Duke and am looking forward to S2! I agree it isn’t as gloriously witty and well-written as Raybourn, but I also thought it got better with each episode, i.e., it came closer to romance. 😉 The final episode, in particular, was so good!

      Ah yes, the slow-burn romance, “heat of attraction but not the culmination of it”, in the case of a series like Raybourn’s, or a show like MissS&tD, carried over several books, or seasons. It’s not easy to frustrate your reader enough to want to read more and more on the promise of the culmination of the couple’s attraction. Raybourn certainly did/does this well. I’m enjoying how she’s developping Stoker and Veronica: Stoker’s desire for marriage vs Veronica’s disavowal of it. And yet Stoker’s lovely about it, understands Veronica, and knows her well, better than she knows herself sometimes (love is paying attention) that he never pushes. And when he tells her how she (and he) needs the open road, to travel and seek adventure: how they’ll have to follow this. Wunderbar!

      I think the reader frustration is real, but it is also anticipated, wouldn’t you say? This is why the HEA is central, b/c that frustration is part of the pleasure of reading and the HEA allows you to enjoy the “frustration” knowing it will be resolved. The HEA always beckons, no matter how dark, or fraught the journey. It’s as present in a rom-com (sheer delight like Mia Sosa’s Worst Best Man), or more angsty. No matter how many books went by and how ARGH I was about Stoker and Veronica, I knew, in the end, they would be together. Even with my favourite not-quite-a-romance, Jane Eyre, no matter how dark Jane on the moors is, the end of her journey of innocence, (poor Jane, flailing out there in the wasteland) there’s always “Reader, I married him” and we know it’s not the prig St. John she’s talking about!

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