Series: Veronica Speedwell #1
Published by NAL on Sept. 1, 2015
Genres: Historical Mystery
Source: the publisher
In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.
London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.
But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
I fell in love with Deanna Raybourn’s A Curious Beginning from the very first chapter. The book has all the wit, melodramatic flavor, and precise diction of a good Victorian novel without the long-windedness. Raybourn sets a good, brisk pace without appearing to; her first-person narrator offers up plenty of description, but keeps the story moving along.
And what a narrator! Miss Veronica Speedwell is a most unconventional heroine. (Her name is something of a horticultural jest, which hints at the intelligent humor sprinkled throughout the book.) Charming, forthright, intrepid, pragmatic, and independent in both thought and action, Miss Speedwell is a delight. She’s forward-thinking, a feminist through and through (although the word hadn’t yet been coined.) Her intelligence, curiosity and penchant for logic and scientific thought make her quick to draw conclusions and act on them. But her relative youth and occasional reliance on her instincts humanize her and offer scope for the occasional humanizing mistake. She’s also quite partial to men, though she always follows a personal rule: never dally in England nor with a compatriot.
Stoker, the other major character in the novel, is a good partner for Veronica. He’s dark, brooding, physically strong, his masculine beauty marred by scars; Veronica compares him at one point to a fallen angel. He is a man of science and of many talents – and many secrets. His pessimism and caution balance Veronica’s optimism and tendency to set her own course. Stoker is, or was, a gentleman, but he neither lives nor acts like one except where either his honor or Veronica’s safety is concerned. He is all passions and hard-won self-discipline, and his courage is one of his better qualities; he’s also capable of being grouchy, dictatorial, and stubborn. No matter; Veronica has more than her fair share of tenacity – and she’ll need it.
This is a mystery, not a romance, but the attraction between the two of them is palpable, and all the more delicious for being unresolved. I’m sure that eventually they will end up together – they’re certainly well-matched! But it’s likely to take several books to get to that point… which is half the fun!
Raybourn always plots a good mystery, and in this book she managed to surprise me several times, in one case spectacularly so. (I should have spotted that particular revelation; I had almost all the necessary background information plus the clues from the book, but I totally missed it.) She also kept me guessing as to several characters’ intentions and motivations. And the settings, ranging from London’s East End to a travelling circus to an aristocrat’s private museum, are vividly described and eccentrically delightful.
This has been one of my few 5-star reads for the year, and I can’t tell you how excited I am about this series! Alas, that’s always the drawback of starting a series on the ground floor, so to speak – I’ll have to wait for each subsequent book. Luckily, I can ease the anticipation for now by catching up on Raybourn’s Lady Julia series, which I’ve barely begun.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2015