Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Title: A Curious Beginning (A Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher:  NAL/Penguin (September 1, 2015)
ISBN: 9780451476012
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: mystery, historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 4 cups 

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.

My Thoughts:

Deanna Raybourn has done it again! She never fails to deliver a book bursting with wit, clever plot twists, and pure entertainment. She is high on my list of 'go to' authors whenever I need a read guaranteed to put a smile on my face and whisk me away from the humdrum of everyday life into an exciting new adventure. I've read several of her books and she has never let me down. Above all else, her books are always sure to be loads of fun, and A Curious Beginning is no exception. Her delightful storytelling makes it impossible not to be pulled right into the story, and that cover is so gorgeous it simply begs you to open the book.

Many readers, myself included, were sad to see this author's Lady Julia Grey series come to an end. To fill the vacancies left by our beloved Julia and Brisbane, in this book we are introduced to a new mystery solving pair: the intrepid Miss Veronica Speedwell and the mysterious yet honorable Stoker. Once again, they are flawed but appealing characters, and while there are some similarities to their predecessors, these characters are also unique and cut from their own cloth.

Veronica is independent, plucky, and thoroughly modern for her time.

"Girls are not supposed to go roaming about the countryside without purpose. It is considered eccentric. So I bought a butterfly net and a killing jar, and that made it quite all right."

She plays by her own set of rules and is an exceptionally strong woman. Perhaps a little too strong at times, as a few of her actions and purported exploits feel a bit over the top (i.e. amputating a gangrenous toe without training or supervision), but I'm more than willing to suspend my disbelief and overlook that small complaint because Raybourn's work is just so deliciously fun to read! And Veronica is likable protagonist, in spite of her faults.

" 'I have been brought up to do good works and to conduct myself with propriety and decorum, and yet I am forever doing the unexpected. Something always gives me away for what I really am.'

'And what are you, child?'

'A woman in search of adventure,' I said gravely."
Stoker, for his part, is dark, moody, and full of secrets, not all of which are revealed in this installment. There is plenty of chemistry and slow-burning sexual tension going on, and as always, Raybourn is masterful with the witty banter and verbal sparring, particularly between the two leads.

" 'That is a tale straight from one of Mrs. Radcliffe's thrillers, Stoker. I expected better from you.'
'It is a perfectly logical hypothesis,' he returned. 'Now, do shut up and stop interrupting whilst I'm being interesting.' " 
The two are thrown together unexpectedly and must learn the truth of Veronica's unknown parentage in order to solve a murder and ensure their safety. Though an unlikely duo at first, they turn out to be quite kindred spirits in many respects and eventually begin to trust one another and form an effective pairing.

"You were entirely correct. The connection was there, only I failed to see it. That is the hallmark of a good partnership, you know - when one partner sees the forest and the other studies the trees."

The beginning of the book is slightly slower paced as we get to know these new characters, but the action really picks up in the second half as the mystery is solved. When all is said and done the groundwork is laid nicely for the continuation of the series. There are more than a few laugh out loud moments, and you feel the frustration as poor Stoker is at times outmatched by the very outspoken and headstrong Veronica.

"He dropped his head into his hands. 'Why must you argue before I have even had my tea? So many words.' "

By the end of the book, however, the two seem to be achieving more even footing, and I look forward to seeing their partnership continue and their relationship evolve in upcoming books. We also have the promise of additional glimpses into Stoker's shadowy past, and that is a tantalizing prospect in its own right. I enjoyed this first book tremendously and feel certain this series will only become even more engaging as it progresses, so sign me up for book 2, please! I can't wait for the next adventure to begin!

"As Arcadia Brown would say, 'Excelsior!' Ever upward, ever forward."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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