Series: Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1
Published by NAL on September 1st, 2015
Genres: adult, historical, mystery
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
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.
If you’ve been itching to curl up with an absorbing historical mystery that will make you laugh and swoon, then A Curious Beginning is right up your alley! I am not usually much one for mystery novels, but the combination of features here, Victorian London, an intrepid and super sassy heroine (also a lady scientist, yay!), and a developing romance hit all the right checkmarks for me. I’m glad I gave this one a try as it really is a super enjoyable set up to what could, finger crossed, be a long and rewarding series!
The story begins with our heroine, Veronica Speedwell, burying her last “relative” and remaining connection to her childhood. A foundling, Veronica had been raised by two spinster sisters, often moving at a whim around the country, causing constant upheaval in her life. Veronica soon discovers, though, that her very life is under attack, with mysterious parties coming out of the woodwork to either aid or hinder. Why are these people after her? What could possibly make Veronica such a threat? It is with Stoker, our romantic lead, that Veronica’s wellbeing is left entrusted. Of course, Veronica is very well capable of taking care of herself (she would have no hesitation in telling you this), but her sense of curiosity to both the situation itself, and to Stoker (who is a reclusive taxidermist–er, natural historian!–with a shady past and plenty of secrets himself) keeps her locked in this particular orbit.
This is a very fun, mostly light, adventurous romp. I’m happy with any time I get to spend in Victorian London, but definitely more so when the story draws you in with its impressive sense of atmosphere and rich detail. Everything that I love about historical fiction, a fully immersive experience into the past full of captivating detail, is present here.
One of the slight problems I had with this story is that the plot is often improbable and the pacing a bit off. Escaping a wrongful murder accusation, Veronica and Stoker flee to a circus. A circus! This is completely ludicrous, but–it is very fun. Many (most?) of the events of this story are completely improbable, but don’t let that stop you! Entering the story knowing that this is not a “serious” mystery should go far in enabling your enjoyment of it.
Where the plot gets improbable, it is more than made up for by the beautiful character work. Both main characters in this story are so enjoyably and fully drawn. This is definitely a book for character readers! Veronica is wonderful. She is unashamedly and unabashedly unafraid to be herself, whatever the ramifications to her reputation. Her lepidopterist studies often take her abroad to capture more rare and elusive butterfly specimens. She is also very free with her, ahem, physical affections. This is definitely anachronistic, but I just went with it. It was honestly refreshing to have a Victorian heroine who puts herself (and her pleasure) first, consequences be damned!
There is a touch of romance here. This is very much a slow burn, with the majority of the book spent carefully building up the affection between Veronica and Stoker. The two go from wary acquaintances to begrudging colleagues to respectful partnership. And the banter between the two is an absolute delight. I also appreciated that Veronica is very much the stalwart rationalist of the two, while Stoker is the impulsive, emotional one. Gender role reversal! The shipping is strong, but it’s just that I wanted more. However, I think patience will pay off here as the careful building of the relationship is much more realistic, and bound to be all the more rewarding when we (hopefully!) get to see Veronica and Stoker come together.
Overall, an enjoyable start to a new series. Mysteries aren’t normally my thing, but I’m so glad I gave this a chance. The story is engaging, the historical detail is perfect, the characters are wonderful, and the romance is building to something truly special. If you love slow burn, banter-y romance you must give this one a shot!