All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

on July 15, 2016

A Curious BeginningA Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1)
Deanna Raybourn
Titan Books
2015, 320p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

London, 1887. Veronica Speedwell intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime. But fate has other plans. When Veronica thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, he offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker – a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. When the Baron is murdered, Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

That’s the briefest blurb I’ve ever seen.

I was a big fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series so although I was sad when that series came to a close I was quite happy when I read that Raybourn was writing another mystery series set in Victorian times. She writes the sort of characters I enjoy and she can orchestrate chemistry between them like nobody’s business. Surprisingly I kind of forgot about this book coming out until I stumbled across it during a late night iBooks session. iBooks is dangerous – so very dangerous. I’ve been buying a lot of books there recently and when I saw this I clicked the button and sent it straight to the top of the TBR.

Veronica Speedwell is an independent woman in her mid-20s who has just buried the last of her 2 guardians, elderly spinsters who raised her. She knows nothing of her origins and now that her guardians are gone, she seeks to travel the world having adventures. Speedwell is a lepidopterist which means she studies butterflies and she enjoys travelling abroad to find and capture new specimens. Before she can depart however she is saved from an intruder by a gentleman who seems to believe her in grave danger. Because he wishes to take her somewhere Veronica was planning on going anyway, she goes with him, only for the gentleman to leave her with a dear friend of his, a taxidermist and natural historian by the name of Stoker. However the mysterious gentleman, who knows who Veronica’s mother was, never returns and is murdered in his study. Stoker and Veronica flee London and suspicion, determined to find out themselves why he was murdered….and what the secret of Veronica’s heritage is.

I will say that I think this book was mostly a win for me….mostly. I like Veronica, I think she’s fun and I really liked Stoker. I love Raybourn’s men and Stoker clearly has some demons and a few hidden secrets which will be delicious when they come out. The chemistry in this opening installment was good, nothing too overt but it’s simmering nicely. Both are quick witted and the banter can be very amusing. Both are very intelligent and share similar interests and it’s easy to see that there really are a lot of options for how this fledgling partnership can progress.

However – there’s no denying that some of the book felt a bit weak. In particular I often felt Raybourn was trying to beat me into submission with how progressive Veronica is. She’s a Victorian lady – the era of chastity and whatever, but Veronica is remarkably modern in her views on sexual relationships, the opposite sex and feminism. I’m not saying that there were no women feeling and acting this way during this time but it seems to be reiterated throughout the book a little too often to feel natural. Veronica is constantly reminding us that she’s had lovers, she’s experienced, she’s traveled all over the world despite being quite young and travel being slow and difficult in these times. She’s capable of taking care of herself, there are many instances during her travels where she’s had to do this or that and to be honest, it did get a little bit wearying. She’s different. I get it. It might’ve felt less jarring if Veronica didn’t wax quite so lyrical quite so often. The dialogue at times often felt very modern and there was far too much of it. Dialing back a little and revealing Veronica’s thoughts and actions over a bit more time might’ve made it feel like she wasn’t trying to shout down everyone she met.

I love a story where two characters are forced to go on the run – it’s all the better if they’re forced into sharing a room or bed due to circumstances….I don’t know why, it’s just one of those things that I really enjoy. I find putting two characters in a room together shakes things up nicely and helps identify whether or not the chemistry is really there or if it’s being forced. So that part of the story really did work for me, which was good as it takes up quite a large portion of the book as they hide out in a couple of different places in order to avoid both people who seem to want Veronica as well as London’s finest, who have decided that Stoker makes a very convenient suspect. The mystery started off promising but I kind of found that it went some pretty strange places and if this sort of thing continues in each book, Veronica is in danger of becoming a bit of a Victorian Mary Sue.

I think this was a pretty decent start and I see a lot of promise…..but I also think that there’s a possibility that it will murder itself with too much witty banter and snappy dialogue, like it’s an 1800’s episode of Gilmore Girls if the mysteries aren’t a bit meatier in the future. I like it enough to continue and I really want to see where it goes with Stoker and Veronica. The first book in the Lady Julia series wasn’t the strongest either and it found its footing more as it went on, so I hope this one is the same.


Book #144 of 2016

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