Vespertine sees all the world as stories, but not all stories have a happy ending. I almost like this as a hook. But it’s a little vague. To me, it also had sort of a speculative fiction vibe about it.
Vespertine Clement is a young woman who lives with her uncle over his bookshop shortly after the gold rush in San Francisco, California. “Young woman” is a little vague. I’d like an exact age, which would help root it in YA. Mrs. Adler, her employer, tempts her with money, position, and independence to take on an almost impossible task: defend the innocence of a fallen woman accused of murder. This is the idea I would like to see brought up in the hook. Mrs. Adler has even arranged for the amiably corrupt Sergeant Cuinn of the police to guide her. I’m a little lost on why Mrs. Alder feels so strongly that Vespertine needs to do this. Why does she care so much? And why not ask somebody else?
Her uncle would prefer she settle into domesticity. The coroner doesn’t like her examining the corpse. The victim’s family wants her to leave them alone. The accused woman isn’t talking. The victim’s priest, and the lynch mob he leads, definitely doesn’t want her meddling. But, she finds signs the victim was poisoned before his throat was slashed. With some odd glassware from the dye makers, a few simple chemicals, and a chemistry text from her uncle’s shop, she sets out to prove it. She calls together witnesses at the police station, assembles the apparatus, and utterly fails to find any arsenic in the victim’s blood.
Now she needs to find a new story, fast. The trial starts Tuesday, and the betting line in the gambling palaces of the Barbary Coast is three-to-one in favor of the city hanging a woman before Wednesday, noon. Complicating matters, the murder has attracted the interests of the worst villains the Golden Gate has to offer: bankers, slave owners, blackmailers, a would be rail baron, politicians, and a woman living in a matched pair of mansions on top of a hill who claims to be a voodoo priestess. What we really need here is stakes. There’s a lot of conflict, but I want to know what happens if Vespertine fails. Sure, it’s bad that an innocent person would die, but I want to know what the main character stands to lose. Also, why are all the worst villains in the case so interested in this case? Why is everyone in the area so interested in what seems like it should be a pretty cut and dry case?
VESPERTINE AND THE RED HAIRED ROMANIAN is a historical thriller aimed at young adults, complete at 70,000 words. The novel is stand alone, but with series potential.
The novel is similar in tone to Phillip Pullman’s “The Ruby in the Smoke”. I’d put this with the last paragraph. It’s a little distracting on its own.