In A CURIOUS BEGINNING, Deanna Raybourn gives readers Veronica Speedwell, one of the most engaging and intriguing characters I’ve met in a book in a long time. She’s fiercely independent, as competent in her profession of international butterfly hunting as defending herself with her hatpin, and has a penchant for dalliances with handsome men, as long as they aren’t Englishmen. In short, she’s a woman at odds with the 1880’s Victorian world in which she lives.
As the story opens, Veronica, an orphan with no other family to speak of, plans to embark on more travel, adventure, and lepidoptery (the study of butterfly species), but when her cottage is ransacked, she meets a mysterious baron who seems to know the secret of her parentage. He also fears for her safety and leaves her in the care of his friend, Mr. Stoker, a man with secrets of his own.
The burgeoning relationship between Veronica and Stoker is full of dazzling dialogue, layer by layer revelations of character quirks, and simmering attraction, and it was my favorite aspect of A CURIOUS BEGINNING. I enjoyed watching two strong and interesting characters clash as they interacted, grew to know each other, and finally came to a begrudging trust and admiration for one another.
Despite Raybourn’s unmatched storytelling skills, I was frustrated with one aspect of the story, and that was the burying of the mystery. An initial mystery, the death of the baron who put Veronica in Stoker’s path, occurs in the sixth chapter, but the characters don’t set about learning more about the baron’s death or trying to unravel the mystery of who might be trying to harm Veronica for about ten more chapters. Another conundrum, Veronica’s lack of knowledge about her mother and father, is woven throughout the story too, but it is far enough from the foreground for much of the novel, that I never perceived it as a significant mystery as I read.
I have no hesitation about recommending this book to anyone who enjoys historical adventure, romance, and mystery stories. Raybourn’s characters and storytelling make the book a standout read. I would merely caution true mystery aficionados not to expect a lockstep mystery story, in which a body appears early and both characters are driven to find a killer throughout. Raybourn spends much of this novel establishing and developing Veronica and Stoker as characters, and I can’t help but believe that will make their partnership in future Veronica Speedwell mysteries that much richer. I look forward to reading the next installment in the series.
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.