PUBLICATION DATE: July 1, 2012
eg Davenport has spent almost her entire life at an exclusive boarding school in Connecticut, far away from the life she wishes she were spending with her father in New York. Although she has all the comforts a young woman her age could desire, she has never truly known her father’s love. When Meg is faced with the news that the father she barely knew has died suddenly, she can’t help but rush to his side in the hope that in death, she might know him more than she did in life. But her father’s protégée, Ian Maguire, is keen to keep Meg from knowing the truth about her father and his line of business. When Meg uncovers the truth – that her father was a successful and notorious thief – she hopes to follow in his footsteps in order to honour his name, and in the hope that it will bring her closer to him. Ian will do everything in his power to stop Meg from heading down the path that her father so desired her to know nothing of. But even Ian can’t help but admit that Meg’s schooling has helped her to make connections that could be incredibly profitable. If he cannot stop Meg from following in her father’s footsteps, the least he could do is help her, in the hope that his protection will ensure no harm will come to her. But once Meg finds herself in the middle of a web of crime, will it bring her the joy and comfort she truly hopes to find?
Having read some early reviews of Bees in the Butterfly Garden, I was intrigued to find that reviewers were split into two distinct groups: those who absolutely adored the novel, and those who found Meg to be an incredibly unsympathetic character. And when I began reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would find myself entrenched in the second camp. How many of us can really relate to a woman who throws away all the comforts she could ever want in order to pursue a life of crime? I will admit that Meg’s initial motivations weren’t the most convincing, but there were several other factors that allowed me to overlook my initial impressions and made me thoroughly enjoy this book. Following on from my love of Olivia Newport’s debut novel, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, I can’t help but ponder what it is about the Gilded Age that appeals to me so. The particular rules of social etiquette, the conflict of old and new money and the high moral code of the upper class philanthropists are all factors that were present in both Maureen and Olivia’s novels, and I can guarantee that if you enjoyed one, you’re sure to appreciate the other.
I can’t admit to knowing a lot about this time period, and I know even less about the history of thievery and other such crimes. But I could tell early on that Maureen had done her research, both about girls’ boarding schools and the actions of the thieves involved in the line of work that Meg’s father occupied. As well as the details interwoven into the novel about social etiquette (from Meg’s need for a chaperone when travelling to the rules of mourning) and those on thievery (in particular, the details of ransoming and cracking safes), each chapter Bees in the Butterfly Garden also contained a quote from either the fictional Madame Marisse’s Handbook for Young Ladies or from a book on criminal activity during this time period. These quotes enabled me to understand some of the motivations of Meg and Ian, and also provided ample entertainment. I’m sure it’s not just me who adores novels that include such quotes, and Madame Marisse’s quotes in particular are sure to intrigue and amuse many a reader.
The secondary characters in Bees in the Butterfly Garden were similarly entertaining, particularly the sisterly banter between Claire and Evie, the old school friends that Meg lives with in New York. Evie’s antics provided an interesting contrast to Meg’s entrance to the world of thievery, and Claire and her brother, Nelson, enabled a gentle spiritual thread about grace and mercy to be wound into the book without feeling too overbearing. I never found Claire or Nelson’s beliefs to be forced into the novel in any way, and the way that Meg slowly began to tap into their ideas felt very realistic. Even if you find Meg to be slightly unsympathetic at the start of the novel, the guilt she begins to feel at deceiving her loving and godly friends can’t help but make her endearing.
Although I entirely bought Meg’s gradual change of heart, I can’t say that I felt the same way about Ian’s. His didn’t have the same sort of build-up, and although I understood the backstory about his father’s strong faith, his ultimate decision to change his ways didn’t come across as entirely realistic. There were a few other moments in the story where the underlying motivations of the characters didn’t seem as believable as it could have been – namely, Meg’s decision to leave her refined life behind and become a thief like her father, and Evie’s final prank, which seemed incredibly cruel, even for her. While I truly enjoyed reading about each of these characters, there were times when I just didn’t find their motives to be completely realistic. Thankfully, this didn’t detract too much from my reading experience, but I can see why it would bother some readers.
It wasn’t until I was nearly finished reading Bees in the Butterfly Garden that I realised that the novel was well over four-hundred pages long. I sped through this book far faster than some significantly shorter novels, a sign of how gripping it was and how much I cared about the fates of the characters. Although I had my gripes with the motivations of some of the characters, I truly did want them to succeed and find happiness by the end of the novel. I hope that other readers will be similarly enamoured with the Gilded Age and all the intrigue that it brings.
Fans of historical fiction and romances may enjoy Bees in the Butterfly Garden, the latest offering from popular author Maureen Lang. The story is set in the 1880’s and revolves around Meg Davenport. When the story opens, Meg is attending a prestigious boarding school named Madame Marisse’s. The school trains young ladies to be proper and exercise decorum. When Meg receives shocking news of her father’s death, she returns home. Meg has never seen much of her father and to her surprise, she learns that he lived a life of crime. Because of her connections from school, Meg knows some of the wealthiest families living in New York, including the Pembertons, and she can help her father’s protégé, Ian Maguire, finish one last job. She goes to stay with the Pembertons under the guise of helping to re-design their mother’s garden. While there, she spends time with Claire, and Evie Pemberton, whom she knows from school, and their brother, Nelson. The Pembertons’ next-door neighbor, Geoffrey, has designs on Meg, but things are complicated. Evie Pemberton wants Geoffrey for herself and Meg finds herself having feelings for Ian. Meanwhile, Ian is mixed up with some dangerous criminals.
This is a fun, suspenseful story, especially if you like historical fiction. Lang does a nice job of including authentic period details and describing the setting in a lovely and detailed way.
My main issue with the book is that Meg isn’t a very likeable protagonist. Her motivations are difficult to understand, and she makes one bad decision after another. Put simply, Meg believes that by becoming involved in crime, like her father was, she will prove herself worthy of him. I understand that she’s young, but it’s hard to sympathize with her. The Pembertons come across as such nice people, especially Claire and Nelson, and it’s troubling to have Meg plotting against them for much of the book. Meg belatedly realizes that she is being unfair to the Pembertons, who’ve been nothing but kind to her, but this epiphany comes late in the story. Ultimately, Meg learns about God’s grace thanks in part to Claire Pemberton. It’s a nice message, but it almost seems like an afterthought within the context of the larger story.
Although the writing style is somewhat stilted and formal, the dialogue seems appropriate for the time period, and the writing is consistent throughout the book. The narrative switches between Meg and Ian’s stories work well and keep the pace from dragging.
Lang is clearly a talented writer, and if the overall storyline doesn’t bother you, then you might enjoy this entertaining novel. The book’s treatment of the theme of crime and punishment is intriguing and thoughtful, even if some of the story doesn’t seem quite plausible, and it’s clever how the various love angles and criminal story line intersect with each other.