Veronica: A Musketeer’s Story
Verónica Espinosa is from Añolina, a hybrid of Spain and Mexico. The oldest daughter of a family with a long bull-fighting history, she is determined to keep up the family legacy and become the first matadora, bucking generations of cultural tradition to maintain family tradition. She is skilled and talented, but when in the ring, she makes a near-fatal mistake and has no choice but to flee. She works her way east to Ançaisia, a country that is practically France (with a couple details from Louisiana sprinkled in). There she bucks tradition again by becoming the first female musketeer.
I went into Verónica: A Musketeer’s Story expecting a fun, light story, and for the most part, that’s what I got. Verónica is a delightful little spitfire who can’t be kept down for long, except by her own regrets and guilt. (And even then, there’s always something to drag her out of it.) I also enjoyed the alternate world; when a writer can bring out elements from familiar cultures but make them fully a part of another world, it makes for a rich and intriguing setting. Studdard didn’t quite manage that, unfortunately. Rather than crafting a new world around some elements of our own, she largely picked up cultures wholesale and merely changed the names. (I had suspected this early on, since the Añoline language is basically Spanish, but it was made very obvious by the Hebish people, who have suffered a diaspora, celebrate Hanukkah, and play with dreidels.)
I wish I could have seen more invention in the world, beyond the fantasy creatures mentioned once and then never again, like the three-headed brachiosaurus, the six-legged crocodiles, or the various sentient but nonhuman species that apparently populate this world. The last, especially, would have been amazing to see expanded on. How would the French culture have changed if humans were not the only lifeforms with culture on the planet?
My other main complaint was the vast difference in pacing throughout the novel. The first chapter felt like it was the climax of another book entirely (and, as a side note, I would love to have read a whole book about Verónica becoming a master matadora, rather than simply being told about it), followed by about forty pages of travelogue as she makes her way east. That level of detail would have been better used, or at least replicated, in the chapters showing her missions with the musketeers, which in my opinion were over too soon.
In short, while I did enjoy the book, I think young adult fantasy can and should reach higher than this. It’s fun, but fun isn’t always enough.
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