Title: A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: New American Library
Publication Date: 2015
After burying her spinster aunt, Veronica Speedwell feels a sense of relief and jubilation. Although her aunts took good care of her after she was orphaned and gave her a unique upbringing by moving often, Veronica is now completely unencumbered to pursue her scientific inquiries. Inspired by her education through reading, Veronica has traveled the world to study butterflies and is ready to embark upon her most industrious journey.
However, upon returning from a very tedious visit with the vicar and his wife, Veronica finds her home ransacked and the thief, still present in the house, attempts to abduct her. With the aid of a mysterious German baron, she is able to escape. Warning her that she is in grave danger, Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach offers to take her to London. Veronica’s sense of frugality – after all, it is a free coach ride – and her sense of curiosity, coupled with the suggestion that the Baron might know something of her mysterious past, gives her the impetus to agree.
The Baron secrets her to a warehouse along the river, which serves as the home and workshop of his friend Stoker. Mr. Stoker owes the Baron a debt of gratitude and begrudgingly agrees to allow Veronica to stay and promises to keep her safe. The danger heightens when the Baron is discovered murdered and Scotland Yard is anxious to pin the crime on Stoker because of his past crimes and history.
As she and Stoker attempt to flee from Paddington Station, Veronica must fend off another interested party, Mr. de Clare. Veronica’s instincts guide her to trust Stoker, albeit warily, and the two embark on an adventure that includes a traveling curiosity act, a collection of worldwide specimens, the Irish rebellion, and the Queen’s Jubilee. With their lives and perhaps the realm itself at stake, Veronica and Stoker must rely on scientific deduction, creative battle plans, and a trusty hat pin.
Don’t you love it when you read a book by a favorite author that makes you feel like you’ve come home! I am a huge fan of Deanna Raybourn, and although I have enjoyed everything she has written, I admit that her Lady Julia Grey series was by far my favorite. With her combination of great characters, clever conflicts, and dry wit, Raybourn’s writing keeps her readers intrigued and entranced with humor and warmth. When I read A Curious Beginning, I was reminiscent of the Lady Julia novels; although totally different characters and scenarios, the voice and personality are the same.
Veronica is both a likely and unlikely heroine. She is very independent and logical, and even though her behavior and interests border on the fringes of proper society, she still understands the need for a tidy workspace and a strong cup of tea. I loved this contrast between what she says and what she does while not completely abandoning a sense of decorum. It makes her a believable and compassionate character. When a character says in the opening pages, “I felt a flicker of mischief stirring and decided with Aunt Nell gone there was no need to suppress it,” you know she is going to be fun.
I also really liked Stoker’s character. He definitely has had a troubled past, some of which is explained and some of which makes the reader frustrated to know more. The scenes in the traveling circus provide a completely unexpected yet quite delightful diversion and still the story comes together so completely and succinctly in the end. I also enjoyed the well-defined setup for future adventures, and as the title implies, this book is only the start!
Who might like this book:
I felt like this book involved more of the scientific, historical, and social background of 1887 London than some of Raybourn’s previous books, and I really liked how she maintained great characters and an engaging plot while staying true to the time period with its social customs and political intrigue. Fans of Tasha Alexander and Anna Lee Huber will enjoy this new series as it focuses on the excitement of a Victorian England on the cusp of a new age of science and enlightenment. If you are looking for a story that will make you ponder scientific possibilities while laughing out loud, pour yourself a strong cup of Earl Grey and sit back for a true adventure!