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Veronica Speedwell #1

A Curious Beginning

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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, 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 with fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England 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 who has 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 as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

339 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2015

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About the author

Deanna Raybourn

33 books7,399 followers
New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist Deanna Raybourn is a 6th-generation native Texan. She graduated with a double major in English and history from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of one, Raybourn makes her home in Virginia. Her novels have been nominated for numerous awards including two RT Reviewers’ Choice awards, the Agatha, two Dilys Winns, a Last Laugh, three du Mauriers, and most recently the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Novel. She launched a new Victorian mystery series with the 2015 release of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, featuring intrepid butterfly-hunter and amateur sleuth, Veronica Speedwell. Veronica has returned in several more adventures, most recently AN IMPOSSIBLE IMPOSTOR, book seven, which released in early 2022. Deanna's first contemporary novel, KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE, about four female assassins on the cusp of retirement publishes in September 2022. (Please note: Deanna is not active on GR.)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,105 reviews
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,483 reviews79k followers
September 23, 2022
It is a rare day that I pick up historical fiction of any kind; I have nothing against the genre, but I feel as though all the flashy, contemporary books shove my good intentions out of the way and I never get around to reading those golden oldies I claim I'll dive into. Lucky for me, Berkley offered the opportunity to review all three books that currently make up the Veronica Speedwell series and am I glad they did. These books are amazing! I cannot believe it's taken me so long to read them, as they have come highly recommended time and again, but better late than never I suppose. If you, like me, shy away from books labeled as historical fiction, please don't overlook this exquisite book. Give me a chance to win you over, please?

"I am quite determined to be mistress of my own fate, Mrs. Clutterthorpe, but I do sympathize with how strange it must sound to you. It is not your fault that you are entirely devoid of imagination. I blame your education."

So our heroine, Veronica Speedwell is a little firecracker; if people were to be related to animals then she would be the love child of a butterfly and a pit viper. She is a lady (almost) completely to the core, yet she is incredibly feisty and will strike out physically, or intellectually, if provoked. The first few chapters may seem a bit confusing and may cause you to wonder just what all these seemingly unrelated tangents could possibly have to do with each other, but I assure you that in time it all becomes clear. The fact that we are reading a mystery novel set in Victorian England, with a protagonist who is a progressive female with the determination to live her life on her terms gives this series a feel that bridges the gap of time. Here we have a nice blend of escaping to (and learning about) another time while also envisioning a world not so different from our own, one where women have to fight tooth and nail just to be considered of equal value to the opposite gender.

He sat back in his chair, his mouth now slack with disbelief. "I could smother you with that tea cozy and no one would blame me," he said in a voice thick with emotion.

"Why ever should you want to?"

"Because you daft, impossible woman, you have been concealing a possible motive from me for the whole of the time we have been together!"

The witty banter between Mr. Stoker and Veronica isn't the only reason to love this series, but it sure does shoot to the very top of the list. Yes, these books have quite a few little shocking twists and exciting action scenes, but the developing relationship between these two characters are what makes this book a standout in a sea of other, similar books. I adore that we aren't given all the answers to Stoker's backstory in this installment, as well as seemingly not all the answers in Veronica's life as well. Just enough was provided to give us closure, but enough was left hanging to make me crave the next book. I was able to buddy read this alongside my sister Irina and we both were blown away by how taken we were with this book, so much so that she's grabbed the sequel from the library so that we can read it together as well! I mean, we have to know what happens next! Highly, HIGHLY recommended to those looking for a true Victorian mystery full of class, humor, and intrigue!

Thanks Berkley Publishing for providing my copy!
Buddy read with my sister Irina! <3
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 46 books128k followers
August 2, 2015

This comes out in Sept, and I got to read an early copy of Deanna Raybourn's new series. JEALOUS MUCH? If you follow my reading tastes you know I'm slightly obsessed with her, we've picked her books twice at least in my Vaginal Fantasy Romance Book Club, so this was a tasty morsel to enjoy, for sure.

I love Veronica, she is a very different character from Lady Julia, and entirely enjoyable in her own way. Sassy, independent, plucky, she's a cool Nancy Drew for the turn of the century. I'm not sure if this is going to be a series, but I'm on board to read more. (also: Sexy Love Interest rawr).
Profile Image for Riley.
429 reviews21.7k followers
December 4, 2021
after re-reading i think i have decided this is my all-time favorite book.
it has everything I love
- murder mystery
- victorian london setting
- rivals with the BEST banter
- traveling circus
- "only one bed" trope

veronica and stoker are seriously two of my favorite characters ever. and their chemistry is unmatched
Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,643 reviews1,511 followers
February 10, 2017
A lepidopterist and taxidermist run away and join the Circus….Wait what??? First I didn’t know what a lepidopterist was, it’s a person who studies butterflies and when I started this I think I internally groaned thinking that this was about a woman who loved to chase butterflies but lucky for me Veronica Speedwell is far more interesting than that.

Veronica might not be the quintessential Victorian heroine. She is headstrong, opinionated and even has taken a lover or five in her time (she has very specific rules on this). Unlike the other women her age the last thing she wants is a husband or anyone else that will tell her what to do. When her last familial tie passes away she is ready to spread her wings with her new found freedom and start a new adventure in some foreign land. Little did she know that the adventure would find her right on the doorstep of the cottage she was just getting ready to leave.

After a break-in where Veronica might have been a target or something nefarious she is met and semi-rescued by a nice gentleman claiming to know her parents and adamant that she is in great danger. It isn’t that Veronica necessarily believes him but she is always up for a good adventure and London is as good a place to start as any. When a murder happens Veronica seems to be in the middle of a mystery and wants to find out why so many unusual things seem to be centered around her.

Left in the care of the ruggedly handsome Stoker with an even more mysterious past Veronica sets out to try and figure out what any of this has to do with her and the parents she never knew. The banter between Stoker and Veronica was perhaps my favorite part of the book. He has never met a woman quite like her and the chemistry between them is definitely of the slow smolder variety. On the run and in hiding they end up in some peculiar places including a traveling circus of sorts. While Stoker might think he is dragging her along make no mistake Veronica does not go where she doesn’t want to be.
I had just returned to the caravan and resumed adventuring with Arcadia Brown when Mr. Stoker burst in, soaking wet and covered in a soapy lather. His hair was dripping rivulets onto the floor, and he had wrapped a bath sheet about himself like a toga. He loomed over me, drenched and panting, having obviously run all the way from the bath tent.
“You look like one of the less capable Roman emperors,” I observed. “Go back and finish the job properly.”
“I have a crow to pluck with you. It just occurred to me – “
“It just occurred to you that I was at liberty and might make my escape. Yes, I know. You are a wretched abductor, Mr. Stoker. I suggest you do not take up felonious activity as a career.”
His expression was sullen. “You will have to make allowances. It is, after all, my first abduction.”

I was a little sad to find out that this wasn’t a standalone novel as I really wanted a resolution to the building desire that was clearly between Stoker and Veronica. As they traipse around London discovering what in Veronica’s lineage could have led to so many chasing after them and be so dangerous I grew to love the idea of them together.

The mystery of this was okay. I was really more interested in the dynamics between Stoker and Veronica and all the shenanigans they seemed to get into together more than an actual resolution to the mystery. Also I did get tired of always being reminded that Veronica was a strange woman. It was made clear time and time again that she is slightly odd, a little overly logical and peculiar in her fascinations. She is still pretty likable I just didn’t need any extra reminders. She reminded me a little of Dr. Bones from Bones the TV series, if she would have been in Victorian London.

I will definitely continue on with the series since I enjoyed the Nancy Drewness of the story and I’m thoroughly intrigued by not only Stoker’s past but also by the chemistry between the two characters. It was fun following them through this first escapade and I can see them getting into all kinds of trouble in the future.
Profile Image for Katie Colson.
676 reviews6,895 followers
May 19, 2023
April 2023: 5⭐️
Reading Vlog: https://youtu.be/MrU2exNWEJA
Did I already read and vlog the entire series? Yes. Am I doing it again? You bet your *ss! After reading the newest (8th) book, I fell head over heels AGAIN with this series and this couple. Leading me to reread the entire series.

I discovered that binge reading them is not the answer. It lessens the glow of the slow burn romance. You become expectant and greedy for their scenes together. By taking it slow and spacing out the books, you get such an enjoyable experience and fully realize how important their relationship is, especially for the time it's set.

I adore Veronica. She's witty, whip-smart and ahead of her time by an eon. But Stoker? Ladies, guard your garters. He is better than any man you've ever known. I don't need to hear your side. I already know the facts. Stoker is simply the best . You're welcome in advnace.

February 2022: 5⭐
Reading Vlog: https://youtu.be/2vf4HqIG5z4
I thought I'd put this down and continue with my life. HA! No. I couldn't stop thinking about these characters. So I read it again almost immediately and fell head first in love. I adore Veronica and Stoker. It took a reread for me to completely attach to them and fully understand them. Their my new obsession. I don't find OTP's often but they are fitting the bill.

January 2022: 3.5⭐
I’m giving this a 3.5 for now cause at first I said “this was pretty good” and thought that was it. Then when listening to another audiobook, I kept thinking about this one. So ima frugally going to reread this book immediately and see what happens. It feels like a tv show where the first few episodes just get me into the world and I haven’t fallen in love with the characters yet. Hopefully upon reread I will enjoy it so much more 🤞🤞
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
789 reviews163 followers
August 23, 2015
A Curious Beginning is the launch of Raybourn’s newest series featuring amateur sleuth, adventuress, lepidopterist, and lover of foreign men, Miss Veronica Speedwell. Veronica has just buried her spinster aunt, her last living guardian, and she’s ready for another adventure. However, this adventure is much closer to home than she could have anticipated. Arriving home from her aunt’s funeral she surprises a burglar and hitches a ride to London with a German baron that claims to have known her mother and father, both of whom Veronica has no remembrance of.

Once in London, her self-appointed guardian stashes Veronica with a trusted ally, Stoker. Stoker is none to happy to have Veronica as a guest; he is not impressed with her opinions on his collection, but he nonetheless complies. When the baron is murdered, Veronica and Stoker are suddenly on the run. Stoker is the prime suspect and doesn’t quite trust the fact that Veronica wasn’t complicit in the murder of his friend. And well, Veronica, she's not one to turn down an adventure.

What should have been an amazing read ended up being a bit lackluster for me. Veronica should have been an intriguing heroine; however, her quirkiness ended up coming across as a caricature rather than something authentic. While Veronica's originally was intriguing and refreshing for a Victorian mystery, I have to confess to finding somewhat over-the-top by the end of the book.

I had been an obstinate child and a willful one too, and it did not escape me that it had cost these two spinster ladies a great deal of adjustment to make a place for me in their lives. It was for this reason, as I grew older, that I made every effort to curb my obstinacy and be cheerful and placid with them. And it was for this reason that I eventually made my escape, fleeing England whenever possible for tropical climes where I could indulge my passion for lepidoptery. It was not until my first butterflying expedition at the age of eighteen – a monthlong sojourn in Switzerland – that I discovered men could be just as interesting as moths.

Initially, Veronica is a wholly unique and adventurous young woman. However, Veronica’s individuality quickly ventured into pure artifice. Veronica’s character was so unique that it became unrealistic and less entertaining. The idea behind Veronica was great, but for me, the execution of such a character was lacking. I didn't need to be told over and over again that Veronica was a different kind of woman.

As for readers of the mystery genre, I have to say I think you’ll likely be disappointed by A Curious Beginning. This one is all snappy dialogue and not much substance. The dialogue between Stoker and Veronica is fantastic:

I had just returned to the caravan and resumed adventuring with Arcadia Brown when Mr. Stoker burst in, soaking wet and covered in a soapy lather. His hair was dripping rivulets onto the floor, and he had wrapped a bath sheet about himself like a toga. He loomed over me, drenched and panting, having obviously run all the way from the bath tent.

“You look like one of the less capable Roman emperors,” I observed. “Go back and finish the job properly.”

“I have a crow to pluck with you. It just occurred to me – “

“It just occurred to you that I was at liberty and might make my escape. Yes, I know. You are a wretched abductor, Mr. Stoker. I suggest you do not take up felonious activity as a career.”

His expression was sullen. “You will have to make allowances. It is, after all, my first abduction.”

However, snappy one-liners and witty repartee does not compensate for the lackluster mystery. Stoker and Veronica never really do any investigating. Instead they run off to the circus and say witty things to one another. A small part of A Curious Beginning was actually devoted to who killed the German baron who helped Veronica. And the discovery of Veronica’s parentage just didn’t seem as impactful as it should have been. As mysteries go, this one was very light.

So, A Curious Beginning didn’t particularly impress me. That said, the back-and-forth between Veronica and Stoker was entertaining and that alone would make me consider reading the next book in the series, although I will be hoping for a stronger mystery and not side adventures where our hero and heroine seem to forget all about the murder they just might be imprisoned for.

Originally reviewed at The Book Adventures.

*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,078 reviews59k followers
September 18, 2015
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn is a 2015 NAL/Penguin publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I don't know how she does it! This first book in the new Veronica Speedwell mysteries gets off to a rip roaring start! I absolutely loved it!

Veronica has lived an extraordinary life for a young lady raised in the 1800's. Taken in by her two aunts after being orphaned, Veronica has been shuffled around often, but this has worked to her advantage, giving her a view of the world most young women of her time never got to see.

As an expert butterfly hunter, Lepidopterology being her specialty, Veronica has seen many places, gone on exciting adventures, and embarked upon passionate love affairs. Now that her both of her aunts have passed away, Veronica intends to continue pursuing the things she loves most in the world, but her plans are immediately thwarted when the Baron von Stauffenbach arrives on Veronica's doorstep just in time to chase away a house-breaker. The Baron claims to know something of Veronica's heritage, but also warns that she is in grave danger and must come away with him at once. Seeing a chance to travel to London without paying for a ticket, Veronica agrees to hitch a ride with the Baron.

On their journey the Baron convinces Veronica to stay with an old friend of his, a man he refers to as “Stoker, whom he trust completely, until he feels Veronica is safe again.

From the moment Stoker and Veronica meet, life will never be the same for either of them. Stoker will find himself drawn into Veronica's dangerous situation, and in a way he never dreamed possible.

Deanna Rayborn is a favorite author of mine, so I super excited about getting to read this one, but I also felt just a twinge of trepidation. Having loved the 'Lady Julia” series so much, a change of pace can go one of two ways, but I am happy to report I loved this book every bit as much as I loved the 'Julia' series and I can not wait to read the next installment!

I don't know which character was the most outrageous, Veronica or Stoker. Both were outstanding characters, very odd, unique, clever, and funny. I will lay odds that every person who reads this book will absolutely adore Veronica. She is so forthcoming, smart, and honest, yet, she has a way of cushioning her observations so that the truth doesn't hurt too terribly bad.

Stoker, is a man of mystery, a taxidermist, and a carnival act, but one gets the distinct impression that the man is living beneath his original station in life. He's grumpy, gripes, is suspicious, but like the Baron promised, is honorable. Be warned that Stoker is a very complex character and you will not solve the mystery of who he really is or garner all the details of his tumultuous life. Stoker is a tough nut to crack, but in time, I do believe Veronica will draw out all of his secrets.

While it may not seem like things are going to fare so well between Veronica and Stoker,in the beginning, what with the two of them holding back secrets and pertinent information from one another, not to mention the awkward position they find themselves in, but in the end they wound up working together very well, and made an excellent detective team.

The mystery stays a mystery for a long time as the author drops clues, plot twist, and red herrings around at a pace that only adds to the suspense. It's obvious Veronica is in grave danger, but she insist there is nothing at all interesting about her and can't seem to understand what all the fuss is about. I will admit to becoming impatient a time or two as information about the case trickled in a snails pace, but Veronica and Stoker kept me highly entertained while I cooled my heels. But, when all the pieces of the puzzle begin to click into place, the mystery takes on very serious and far reaching ramifications. The intrigue Veronica finds herself in the midst of isn't merely dangerous, but shocking and explosive. I was riveted, tightly holding onto my kindle with both hands, barely even breathing!

To say I enjoyed this book goes without saying. It's smart-witted, amusing, with near perfect characterization, sharp and snappy dialogue, with a very compelling and interesting plot.

I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers and to those who enjoy historical fiction. 5 stars

Profile Image for Linda.
1,288 reviews1,329 followers
January 12, 2018
"I have little doubt your bark is worse than your bite," he retorted.

"How do you know, Mr. Stoker? I haven't bittten you yet."

And there's quite the bite in this one. Teeth-sinking......gonna-leave-a-mark kind of bite.

Veronica Speedwell has been raised from early childhood by two spinster aunts in London. 1887 brings the last chapter to that relationship as Veronica returns to close up the small cottage after their deaths. Walking through the rooms she recalls the memories. Such confined quarters were the springboard to propel her into more wordly adventures. Her professional butterfly net leans against the wall as a testament to both her natural science pursuits and those of various romantic flirtations.

Just as Veronica is making her way out the door, she is accosted by a sizeable man who roughly pulls her down to the ground. She fights him off until her cries for help are met by a German baron who chases away the abductor. Baron von Stauffenbach tells her to grab her bag. Veronica is in much danger and they must flee immediately. With no time to even question the baron, they climb into his carriage. The baron brings her to the small home of Mr. Stoker, a natural scientist, who is working on a huge elephant specimen.

Stoker is reminded of his debts to the baron and a deal is cut in which Stoker will keep an eye on Veronica until the baron can return. He tells Stoker that he will explain everything later. But later never comes for the baron. When the baron's body is found, Stoker and Veronica know that they must take to the road and find a place of safety. It is this game of hide and seek that brings the plot to a fine boil. Who is pursuing Veronica and why?

Deanna Raybourn spices up this storyline with a pistol of a main female character. Her feisty nature floats right on the story's surface and her witty comebacks are not lost on the readers. She's experienced quite a bit during her wordly travels much to the dismay of Stoker. Smart and analytical, she's quite the challenging figure.

This is the first book in the Veronica Speedwell series and it lights the fire well for the upcoming books. There is a very creative "twisty" at the end of the book that is worth the price of admission. I'm looking forward to the next one in the series. I'm sure Veronica will be smiling a toothy grin like the Cheshire cat in all these future offerings by Raybourn.
Profile Image for Emily.
182 reviews7 followers
January 22, 2019
In an attempt to be organized:

What I liked: ...

What I disliked: Characters. Plot. Dialogue Revelations.

Let me start with Veronica Speedwell, our main character and narrator. In the first 9 pages, we find that what she calls being "blunt" is really the rudest and most offensive way to say what's on her mind. There are many ways to say, 'no, I won't marry their father whom I don't know and become the mother to his six children' that isn't "'Mrs. Clutterthorpe, I can hardly think of any fate worse than becoming the mother of six. Unless perhaps it were the plague, and even then I am persuaded a few disfiguring buboes and possible death would be preferable to motherhood.'" Followed by other insults disguised as "bluntly honest." A fine introduction to the narrator of this entire book.

Now, the idea of this book is that the last connection Miss Speedwell has to England, her Aunt who is not at all related to her, has died and she is about to go abroad to catch butterflies since she is a Lepidopterist and Scientist. However, her trip is aborted when, to quote the dust jacket summary of this book, she "thwarts her own abduction" and meets a mysterious older German gentleman who claims to have known her mother. This German gentleman leaves her with a surly taxidermist, promising to come back and reveal Speedwell's parentage, but is murdered. The rest of the book is Speedwell and the taxidermist, Stoker, trying to unravel the murder and how it's related to Miss Speedwell.

I must say though, Veronica Speedwell does NOT thwart her own abduction. The German gentleman, Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach, does. In fact, Veronica nearly ASSISTS her own abduction by rushing into her obviously broken-into cottage to confront the person who is still in the house! And upon finding the person and realizing he is huge, admitting that she underestimated her opponent (she couldn't even see him! how could she even make an estimate of this person?!). But then she runs after him and confronts him. He grabs her arm and it's only when Maximilian holds up a revolver to the person...so, that's in the first 15 pages.

And what does our lovely, kind, well-mannered narrator do upon meeting a taciturn taxidermist by the name of Stoker? She spends most of the page trying to one-up him (he mockingly offers her a cigar, she declines, saying his are inferior tobacco and pulls our her own cigarollo), point out his mistakes (pointing out a label mistake on butterfly, literally one of the first things out of her mouth), and educate him on how to get expeditions. It's really condescending, and she seems to think that she's being compassionate and helpful. "'I suppose it was expected that you would lose your nerve.'" SO KIND. Reading though this part was excruciating. It took me HOURS to go 30 pages. And she's found her second opportunity to talk about her sex life. It's great and all that she doesn't live by the rigid morality of the time, but when she spends a good bit of time explaining why she doesn't ever enter onto an affair with an Englishman because it's on native soil and rumor could get out and society isn't forgiving, it makes me side-eye each time she spills about her sexcapades. Its amounts to the same thing she's trying to avoid! Not to mention she supposedly doesn't care about society or what they think of her!

Quick side note: Veronica Speedwell is Unconventional, Unfeminine, Odd, Peculiar, Unique, Astonishing, Intelligent, a Scientist, a Lepidopterist, Eccentric, Self-Taught, Intellectually Free, Shocking, Original, Unusual, etc. These are important traits in her. She's Been Around The World on expeditions and had several Lighthearted Affairs (I really don't care that she has, its just her whole attitude about it is contradictory to her rules! And she likes to throw them in people's faces). One of these affairs may or may not have been with a Corsican Bandit that attempted to either marry or murder her, and taught her to defend herself. He's mentioned no less than FIVE times. He must be a favorite. (I have formed two lists for her while reading. The "OF COURSE she is" list and the "List of Adjectives")

There's also the whole bit where Speedwell says "'We are, as a gender, undereducated and infantilized to the point of idiocy.'" On the next page she says, "The men there were not half so tiresome as the ladies who arrange the flowers'". WHY spout feminist arguments only to go and side against the rest of your gender? Ugh.

Moving on the Stoker, the taxidermist. Also the expeditionist. And natural historian. And gentleman. And reader of romantic poetry, tattooed, eyepatch-ed, scarred by a jaguar, navy surgeon, conjurer, and knife thrower. I can refer to him by many titles, and still be only referring to him. His full name is Revelstoke Templeton-Vane. And he is full of revelations. I forget how old he is, but no more than 32. Yet has been in a traveling show 3x, once in his childhood, which is weird as he is born into a gentleman's family. And for the first half of this novel, I was convinced that he was some unformed, unfinished foil of a character existing only to heighten Veronica's intelligence by the reader's estimation. I think he was better fleshed out by the end. I think. (I formed a list for Stoker too. The "Of Course he is/did" list)

And any other character in this book is either: a two-dimensional stock character (the jealous dancer from the traveling show) or falls under Veronica's supposed charm. And they all feel like Stoker did at first, meaning that they exist to accentuate Veronica's intelligence. Sometimes Stoker's as well.

I think I've covered characters. Moving on: Plot. It dragged for about 150 pages or so. There was no advancement in trying to figure out the cause and the murderer behind the murdered German baron. Just pages and pages of Stoker and Veronica bickering, one-upping, etc. And a traveling show. Just because.

Dialogue Revelations. This is not something that I talk about in every book. I've actually not encountered it before at all. And I truly dislike it. I cannot be convinced that saving character revelations or the process of deductive reasoning being reserved for dialogue only is a way to make the characters smart. So many revelations that are thrust upon readers happen not during Veronica's internal narrative, but when she is talking aloud. Same with Stoker. Like that Veronica had malaria. We don't find out until Stoker confronts her (in dialogue, of course). Or how Veronica knew that Stoker actually came from an aristocratic family--his boots and vowel pronunciation. Or Veronica witnessed Krakatoa (Of Course she did). Or her parentage, which is all written in documents. The author could have chosen to have Veronica see it upon the page and SHARE that part with readers, but instead we know Veronica reads it and its shocking, but we don't know WHO or WHAT until she hands it to Stoker so he can read ALOUD (see: dialogue). All revealed in dialogue. It's kind of annoying, and it feels like a cheap device to amplify shock value and/or prolong suspense and anticipation.

Speaking of both plots and dialogue revelations, Stoker and Veronica spend a good deal of time trying to discern motives for the murder of the baron. And so much time has been spent trying to establish that the characters are Intelligent that it just seems absurd that they cannot see the obvious link between the murder of the baron and Veronica. I'm convinced this is also a device to try and make the plot last longer. (And Veronica spends an embarrassingly long time denying that she is related to the whole affair despite her Intellectual Prowess. Her reasoning in the end? Miss World Traveler Scientist Lepidopterist Astonishingly Unfeminine Unconventional Unusual Speedwell thinks herself Not Very Interesting. <--- WTF I CANNOT HANDLE THIS)

I do not know if I covered everything that bothers me about this book. It's hard to say because I couldn't keep track. I can say, though, that the ending was extremely fitting for this rather extreme book. Is that a plus? I don't know.

BTW, name-dropping does not convince me that a character is smart. Using a feminist argument that is modern in today's world for a character in 1887 London does not convince me a character is smart. Having a character admit to being abducted numerous times and is still alive and unharmed does not convince me a character is smart.

My favorite part: "He shook his head as if to clear it. 'I smoked opium once. It felt like listening to you...'" He's referring to Veronica.
Profile Image for Katie.
17 reviews
December 16, 2015
*Received an ARC*
I was disappointed in this book. I wanted to love it. Victorian mysteries are one of my favorites, but this book just left me sad and disappointed. It's billed as a mystery, but that term only applies to the last half of the book because until then, no one is investigating anything. The first half of the book does have a murder, but that's kind of put to the back burner while the protagonist and her companion run off to the circus to hide. Seriously. The whole circus bit felt like a redone gypsy scene from the Lady Julia novels. While I was reading the scene, I found myself forgetting it was a circus and was instead picturing the gypsy camp. Maybe that's my own fault, but I feel a writer as talented as Deanna Raybourn could (and should) be able to write two similar scenes in separate books differently enough that the reader isn't confused.

The heroine is an insufferable know-it-all, and yet she takes over half the book to realize that a break-in of her home, a near abduction of her person, and a murder of her rescuer might have something to do with her. And that's only after the prodding of her protector. She's presented as this modern woman who doesn't kowtow to propriety, but except for being a lepidopterist (of which we are continually reminded, annoyingly, throughout the book) there is nothing about her that puts her in Victorian times. I know Deanna Raybourn knows her stuff about the Victorian era (I read, and loved the Lady Julia books), but nearly none of that is present in this book. This book easily could have taken place in modern times, with only a few minor changes. I also didn't feel Veronica's overt sexuality was needed in the book. I think it's an interesting choice to make, and could have been done in a way that wasn't being used as a tool to show how "progressive" she is, and constantly reminded of. We are told no fewer than 6 times throughout the book that she has had multiple lovers around the world. Yay?! I particularly felt the scene after Veronica and Stoker first arrive at the circus was tasteless, unnecessary, and bordered on sexual assault. After spending their first night in the caravan, Veronica awakens and purposefully sits in a way that allows the sun to shine through her chemise making is see-through, with no other purpose than to make Stoker uncomfortable. I'm all for being proud of your sexuality and going after things you want, but this just shows how disrespectful, arrogant, and rude Veronica is. This is at a time in their relationship where they barely know each other, and there have been zero indications that either of them are interested, romantically, in the other. This scene made me really dislike Veronica.

The conclusion of the book also left a lot to be desired. It almost felt as if Deanna Raybourn really wanted to somehow make Veronica Prince Albert's legitimate daughter as the ultimate payout of the book, but couldn't really figure out how to conclude it. So we get a murder, which is really the thing that sets the whole book off, in my opinion, that turns out to have been an accident, and Veronica burned her papers showing she was the legitimate heir to the throne, and everybody lived happily ever after. It just felt rushed and boring to me.

Overall, I thought the book was okay. I don't know that I'll read any more in the series, though.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sara (sarawithoutanH).
512 reviews3,472 followers
January 30, 2023
This was a very random read for me, but I really liked it! I literally knew nothing about this before going into it, but it was a lot of fun. The story was a little all over the place, but I really liked the main character, Veronica. I look forward to reading the next book in the series!
Profile Image for Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede.
1,937 reviews798 followers
February 10, 2017
I did enjoy the book very much for the most parts. It was entertaining, funny to read sometimes and I really wanted to know what was so special about Veronica. One thing I thought about when I read the book was that even though I liked Veronica, she just didn't seem to suit the century. I mean this is the year 1887, not 1987. She is freely talking about sex, she had several dallies, she even asks Stoker when the last time he had sex and she seems so liberated in a period when women absolutely weren't that liberated, well not without losing their reputations. I still like her, she is a marvelous character, sure sometimes she was borderline annoying and a bit know-it-all. But still, she is great, loves her freethinking way even though it goes against everything I know about the period.

The one part of the story that I found dragged down the story a bit was the circus part. Stoker and Veronica have run away after the barons murder and is hiding in a circus and I just felt that it took far to much of the story and that it just didn't feel that relevant. This was more a get to know Stoker's background. And, the whole thing with them pretending to be married was kind of amusing, but mostly I just wanted the story to get moving towards more about veronica and why there seem to be people after her.

But after that, the story took off again and I loved the part where we got to know more about her family. That was a very gutsy twist to the story! I'm looking forward to reading the next book in this series when it is released.

I received this copy from NAL through Edelweiss in return for an honest review! Thank you!
Profile Image for Beverly.
835 reviews313 followers
March 2, 2018
It is strange that I read this one after A Murder in Time, because the heroine in this story is smart, disciplined, and a modern thinking woman of the 1800s, where as the actual modern day woman who traveled back in time to the 1800s did not seem to be terribly smart or self-disciplined. She was unable to stop flinging epithets about, not even to protect herself from exposure. I liked this heroine more and admired her fortitude under extremely trying circumstances. It makes me consider A Murder in Time to be more of a 2 rating than a 3.
Profile Image for ♛ may.
806 reviews3,838 followers
January 23, 2020
i know i'm about 5 years late for the hype but this book is pure Victorian Excellence

incoherent stream of thoughts & feelings
- this book follows our free-spirited, know-it-all, opinionated, main character, Veronica Speedwell, a lepidopterist by trade (thats just a fancy name for someone who studies/collects butterflies) who finds her safety in danger after the passing of her aunt
- she is teamed up with a grumpy, unkempt taxidermist due to unforeseen circumstances and now they're working to solve some mystery
- they're so snarky with each other, they bicker endlessly and get on each other's nerves but at the same times they build this comradery and friendship and it's so sweeeeeettttt aaaaaaaaaaa
- and ok the chemistry between the two of them is so GOOD. it's slow burn but x 32193 and it just makes it so much better jfkljdalfkjal (but i'm also annoyed bc i want them TO BE TOGETHER)
"...Perhaps some tidying up would be in order." I suggested hopefully, regarding the chaos of his surroundings.
"Touch so much as a hair of a sloth's head, and I will have you shot," he said darkly.

ugh their banter really is just top tier
- theyre like audrey and thomas from Stalking Jack the Ripper but older, more mature, and grumpier, it's fantastic
- they literally join the circus like,,,,,,excuse me this calls to my inner clown
- theyre so soft with each other like if the other one gets hurt (which happens more often than not) they're always freaking out and rushing to help and losing their mind bc THEYRE SO IN LOVE BUT THEYRE BOTH BLIND
- like Stoker is an absolute grump but when he's with her, he's less of a grump and you know what, that's true love right freaking there heart emoji heart emoji
- ok i've gone on about the romance far too much for a book that barely features any
- so the mystery aspect isn't the greatest, probably because the main focus of the book is veronica herself - (or thats what it seemed like to me) but it is very entertaining to read and it was set up and delivered well.
- the plot itself is quite slow and things take time to progress, BUT the main reveal did make me raise my eyebrows in shock !! (amazing)
- there is so much more background to learn about these characters, it seems everyone is harbouring some secrets and basically i'm going to throw myself into the next book as soon as possible
- so if you like victorian detectives, character centered, and a slowburn romance, and clownery, sign right up

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
3,000 reviews1,643 followers
June 6, 2021
What an unexpected delight! Veronica has a very strong voice and it comes out strong right from the beginning. Veronica is brash, intelligent, and driven and she engaged me from the start. I was happy to find that her confidence and straight-forwardness never wavered, even when she was was at her lowest. And my favorite was how little time or anxiety she spent worrying about Stoker or catering to his tantrums—and how refreshing he found that treatment.

Indeed, the back and forth with Stoker was a highlight and I found myself laughing out loud at many of their exchanges. And I liked that Stoker could hold his own with her without feeling a need to diminish her in any way. They made a great partnership, frankly, and seeing them combine their respective talents to take on all comers, however powerful, was extremely fun.

And anything else I have to say would be spoilerific, so I'll just say that some of the plot twists were twisty indeed, and I loved the chance that Raybourn took with her inventive history and how, for all I know, yeah, something like this might very well have happened and the historical figures involved could very well have behaved as depicted at that time and place.

So this gets all the stars and I was very happy to have found it.

A note about Chaste: While Veronica has sexual exploits in her past, she does not believe in liaisons with Englishmen and sticks to that determination despite having to acknowledge an attraction to Stoker. We've no idea what Stoker thinks about that, but I love how her frank talk disconcerted him a time or two. So this is chaste, but there is talk of sex, just not in much detail. That may not be considered "chaste" to many, but it works for me.
Profile Image for Christina ~ Brunette Reader.
187 reviews313 followers
October 31, 2017

5 Fabulous Stars
”But those of us who have been given the benefit of learning and useful occupation, well, we are the proof that the traditional notions of feminine delicacy and helplessness are the purest poppycock.”
Veronica Speedwell, Victorian lady and globetrotting lepidopterist extraordinaire. Her wit, her sass, her quirkiness, her own original brand of early feminism, I loved each and every page in her company.

London, 1887
Just back in England due to the loss of her only remaining adoptive aunt, Veronica is already planning her next scientific expedition to continue studying exotic butterflies and enjoy the occasional romantic affair around the world when a ransacked house and an attempted abduction force her to prolong her homecoming. With the help of an elderly German baron who strangely seems to know many things about her unknown origins as an orphan as well as about who might be trying to harm her, Veronica repairs to London and, urged by the foreign aristocrat, accepts the protection and the unenthusiastic hospitality of the only man the baron trusts with her life.
Reclusive, enigmatic and grouchy as much as handsome, Stoker would like nothing more than to go on with his work as a natural historian and taxidermist without pesky external interferences though, bound by a debt of honour, he has no choice save for accepting the meddling, and maddening, bluestocking into his care. But when, few days later, the baron is found murdered before he was given the opportunity to reveal what he knew about Veronica’s past, it’s clear someone would go to great lengths in order to silence all of them forever. And so the eccentric spinster and the solitary fallen gentleman must join forces, ignore the most inopportune attraction developing between them and embark on a wild run to escape the clutches of the faceless and ruthless enemies chasing their every step...

Narrated by Veronica’s smart, unconventional and unique voice, A Curious Beginning is a delightful blend of mystery and adventure, the pace and the breeziness catering to a more contemporary taste while the rich, polished style and the vivid and atmospheric setting evocative of Victorian suspense novels of yore.
Peppered with intelligent humour all along, the author takes us on a fun ride and introduces us to a very likeable and layered leading duo. I found their amusing bickering alone worth the ticket and despite the romance remaining in the background, there is a delicious tension between these two punctuated by a sparkling banter which makes the chemistry even more palpable, so much that they quite don’t go a chapter ”without a feisty discussion and a pitched battle of wits.” They both have recognised a similar inquisitive, free-thinking and independent mind in each other, and if she’s the more provocative and flamboyant of the two while he harbours a well-hidden emotional side, they can’t help but feel strong, and reluctant, mutual admiration and attraction, a simmering push and pull that promises some nice fireworks for the rest of their ongoing romance throughout the series.
The main mystery plotline is carefully built, slowly composing the bigger picture, giving more immediate answers and leaving loose threads for future developments at the same time. But for me, what really shines is the exuberant and refined writing, the tongue-in-cheek light tone allowing nonetheless multifaceted characterisations and storytelling.

An exciting and wonderful series to look forward to.

Buddy-read with Jill :)
Profile Image for Emma.
2,510 reviews855 followers
March 17, 2017
Maybe even 4.5! Very much enjoyed this feisty new character Veronica Speedwell and her sidekick Stoker. A sparky relationship develops between them as they are chased across the country by various rogues and scoundrels. Looking forward to the next instalment. Recommended.
Profile Image for Melisa.
324 reviews516 followers
May 7, 2017
The language! I absolutely adored the Victorian language of this novel. This is my first time reading this author, but I will definitely be back for more!

I also loved the character of Veronica, the little spitfire. She had such an easy and oftentimes hilarious banter with the other main character, Stoker. I highly enjoyed their misadventures and sleuthing.

The storyline took quite an exciting turn when the mystery was finally revealed - I was not expecting that at all!

My main complaint, as someone who hasn't eaten red meat for well over ten years, and is a lover is animals, was all the talk of killing animals and butterflies. It was a bit sensitive for me and I did skim over some parts. If this is a trigger for you, I would recommend avoiding.

I'm looking forward to book two in this series!
Profile Image for Madison Warner Fairbanks.
2,367 reviews338 followers
December 19, 2021
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
Veronica Speedwell book #1. Historical mystery series.
An introduction to independent Veronica Speedwell. A butterfly researcher by trade, a mystery investigator by happenstance. Veronica eludes a kidnapping and ends up paired with Stoker, a reclusive historian. Together the two have adventures, thwart another kidnapping and discover a royal connection.

Intriguing. Veronica is smart, intuitive and modern for the times. I enjoyed reading her and Stoker’s interactions and following the thought process. She had some funny quips.
I’m wondering where this will go so will be reading more of this series.
Profile Image for Skyler Autumn.
229 reviews1,402 followers
September 8, 2017
2 Stars

Well that was stupid. This book took me what felt like years to finish. I kept leaving it to read and finish another book then returning getting a few chapters in and going fuck it and grabbing another book from my TBR pile.

A Curious Beginning is about a lepidopterist (expert in butterflies) name Veronica Speedwell that is thrusted into the arms of a reluctant man named Stoker (obviously he is super handsome and shrouded in mystery) when an attempt is made on her life. When a close friend of Stokers is murdered attempting to help Veronica these two unlikely companions take it upon themselves to find out what the hell is going on! This premise sounds interesting right? WRONG!

The plot itself all though at first interesting quickly unravelled into a mundane let's talk about all the facts and hypothesize about different scenarios while drinking tea type deal. When you have to constantly replay past chapters and discuss characters and motives in great detail. It's because you have not conveyed any of it properly!! If you have to keep reminding me of a characters intentions the character is not developed enough to have intentions. I kept forgetting plot points and secondary characters not because it was overly complicated but because of lack of interest.

And I did not like our Heroine Veronica Speedwell, I'm not big on characters that act superior to the rest of society. The ones that act as if everyone else are merely sheeps in the world and they are the only ones breaking rules and running wild and free. Its like I'm fine with free thinking independence, but that doesn't mean you need to shit on others life choices and act above them. The author also attempts to write Speedwell as ahead of her time with her sexual nature but instead writes her as that friend we all had in high school. You know the one desperate to tell us how many boys like them, and how much sex they've had. It comes across more desperate and insecure instead of empowering. Oh!! And the whole I don't like you that way Stoker but then she proceeds to mention every girl that gives him the eye and then probes him about his sexual history to an inch of his life? This characters giving me PTSD flashbacks of all the times I was drunk and crossed the conversational line in University.

Overall, I expected to enjoy this read from the back blurb but instead found myself counting down the pages to the end. The adventures of Stoker and the "sexually mature" Veronica are going to stop here for me.
Profile Image for Kay ☼.
2,036 reviews775 followers
June 4, 2021
3.5 ⭐
This is my third Victorian era mystery featuring a "modern" ahead of her time heroine sleuth. The other two are Stalking Jack the Ripper and A Study in Scarlet Women. The characters have different backgrounds but all three are smart, outspoken and confident female leads that without 1880s backdrop, you'd think they're from the 21st century.

I'm a sucker for pretty covers! I probably started this one too soon and not quite ready for another similar character. What sets Veronica Speedwell apart is her curiosity and knowledge in science. The mystery as to why Veronica is in danger throughout the novel is definitely unexpected.
Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,542 followers
May 9, 2019
I like historical fiction and especially the branch of historical mysteries. If they are set in the Victorian period even better. Add a strong, independent heroine and the mix is more appealing. The problem is that I read a few of these kind of books and it has to be something special to impress me. I enjoyed Veronica Speedwell with her passion for butterflies and the male counterpart but the plot/characters interaction wasn't that different with a few exceptions. What i thought to be a bit of fresh air was Veronica's interest in exotic men and her adventures. Many heroines in romance fiction (because it is a bit of that genre as well) are either virgins or inexperienced lovers and I was glad to see a change in that.

I enjoyed it enough to read the next one and I hope the characters will grow on me even more.
Profile Image for Diana | Book of Secrets.
798 reviews595 followers
September 22, 2016
Yes, it was a curious beginning. :-) This is the first book I've picked up by Deanna Raybourn, and it was an enjoyable read. It's an intriguing Victorian mystery with an oh-so-unconventional Victorian heroine. Veronica Speedwell is worldly, independent, and free-thinking. She has a scientific mind and would rather travel to exotic locales in search of rare butterflies than settle down with a hubby and kids. Unfortunately, her life is in danger, and she has no idea why.

After an abduction attempt, Veronica flees to London with the help of a mysterious baron who claims to know her deceased mother. He hides her at a friend's house - a man named Stoker, who I can only describe as a sexy curmudgeon taxidermist, lol. Before the baron can return to spill his secrets to Veronica, he's murdered. Now she and Stoker are on the run from unknown baddies, and together they have to figure out the who and why before it's too late.

Overall, I really liked this book. I enjoyed the Gothic atmosphere mixed with plenty of humor from Veronica and Stoker. What a pair! Both were hard-headed know-it-alls, and their banter had me giggling. Good chemistry between them too. It took the mystery a while to get going, but the big reveal was worth it. Looking forward to the next book in the series!

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Maria.
167 reviews105 followers
September 14, 2022
There's nothing wrong with this book but there's nothing great about it either. It was OK.

It felt like a story I've heard a few times before. I do think a lot of people will like this book, because it's murderous adventure, I just personally didn't vibe with the main characters.

Veronica the female main character has adult Enola Holmes vibes. She's a little too blunt and she brings up a bit too often how ok she is with pre marital sex. Like I get it she's a modern women in olden times and will not be constrained by society's expectations, but I think it's weird to ask your mystery solving partner if he "self satisfies".

Speaking of the male main character, he is just alright in the way leftover pizza is alright.

If this book were a beverage it would be room temperature apple juice.
Profile Image for Jaya.
439 reviews223 followers
March 4, 2018
Instead of writing a ragey/rantey review-reaction, I'd just mention that the female protag's charater and attutide was quite annoying and unrealistic to the extent of being intolerable often at times. And the big mystery was.... Meh
Thoroughly disappointed 1.5 stars
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
613 reviews5,001 followers
April 3, 2022
2.5 rounded up exclusively because of Stoker. I probably won't continue with this series, but I'll see how it sits with me.

Click here to hear more of my thoughts on this book over on my Booktube channel, abookolive!

Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,620 followers
February 7, 2017
Entertaining Victorian murder mystery with slow burn romance starting between likeable leads. Well written, nice MCs, and kept moving but rather light on plot for its length, for me, with a lot of picaresque wandering in the first 2/3. Very immersive and very much book 1 of a series with lots of TBC plot threads to be explored. Adore the cover.

I have a major plausibility issue with (massive spoiler, do not click)
Profile Image for Hannah.
527 reviews436 followers
July 17, 2023
This was so much fun! I love Veronica and her quick wit, she is an insanely fun character to read about. And Stoker. Oh my god Stoker. Their banter was amazing, they’re so hilarious together. This was such a quick read too! Definitely recommend, especially if you like Stalking Jack the Ripper or even Pride and Prejudice with a dash of mystery added.
Profile Image for Lady Wesley.
940 reviews323 followers
April 3, 2021
Readers who enjoyed Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series of Victorian mystery/romance stories will definitely want to try A Curious Beginning, the first volume of a new series featuring an independent-minded Victorian woman who goes sleuthing with a sexy, mysterious man of many secrets. On the surface, the characters sound similar to Lady Julia and Brisbane, but they are sufficiently different from that couple to make this series stand on its own. (In case you’re wondering: Raybourn changed publishers last year, so Lady Julia is history. EXCEPT – a UK television producer has taken an option on the series, and Raybourn has hinted that television success could lead to more books!)

Veronica Speedwell (and yes, that is an intentionally redundant name, as “Speedwell” is the common name for the flowering genus Veronica) is an orphan raised by two spinsters who call themselves her aunts but who actually are not related to her. She never knew her parents and apparently never was curious to know about them. She took up lepidoptery in her youth as a way of getting out of the house by herself, and she has turned it into a quasi-career and traveled to remote parts of the world. As she is a thoroughly modern young woman, she has occasionally indulged her carnal desires with men she met on her travels. The story opens as the last aunt has died after Veronica returned from a butterfly-hunting trip to Costa Rica.

Veronica is rational, independent, stubborn, and outspoken. She has none of the usual accomplishments expected of a Victorian female and has no desire to marry and have children. It is not surprising, therefore, that when she returns from her aunt's funeral to find an intruder in their cottage, she fights and then pursues him. When the intruder attempts to drag her into a waiting carriage, she is rescued by a courtly German gentleman who introduces himself as Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach. He tells her that her life is in jeopardy and that she must put herself under his protection. Trusting her instincts – which Veronica does quite often – she agrees and they set off for London.

It turns out that the baron knew her mother, but he is reluctant to tell her much immediately. "If it were in my power to tell you everything . . . , ” he tells Veronica as he leaves her in London, promising to return. The baron commits Veronica to a man he trusts completely, Stoker, a taxidermist who works in a dilapidated Thames-side warehouse crammed full of scientific specimens, dead animals, and all sorts of related paraphernalia. Stoker does not make a good first impression – other than his shirtless, tattooed and muscular back shining with sweat. If you like that sort of thing. Stoker owes the baron some type of debt of honor, so he begrudgingly agrees to let Veronica stay and promises to protect her. Emphasis on begrudgingly.

Lots of authors create romantic heroes who are rude, moody, and misogynistic, but Deanna Raybourn has outdone them all. In the early parts of the book, it is very difficult to imagine Stoker as a hero; he is truly a jerk. Soon, however, when the baron is found murdered and Stoker takes Veronica on the road to elude the assassin, the pair begin to develop a reluctant respect for one another. Veronica is not one to be cowed by any man, and there is delightful banter between the two. It becomes easier to admire Stoker, although he never will be a hail-fellow-well-met type of guy. He is devoted to protecting his charge, and there were a few points where I became impatient with her reluctance to trust him.

There are far too many twists and turns in the plot for me to do it justice in this review. Suffice it to say that you will not in your wildest dreams imagine what is coming next. And yet, thanks to Ms. Raybourn’s skill, it all works beautifully in the end. The mystery of Veronica's birth is revealed, but there is lots of room for further developments in that area. And some of Stoker's past comes to light, although he still remains an enigma. Ms. Raybourn has pulled off a neat trick in making the heroine a plain-speaking, practical, and unsentimental woman, while the hero is more of an emotional, reticent, and easily wounded romanticist (although he would deny it).

In the end, Veronica devises a clever plan for them to continue working together, as she realizes that she does not want to simply say good-bye to Stoker forever.
Something about his quickness of mind, his determination to live by his own lights, had called to me. I recognized his nature as my own. It was as if we were two castaways from a far-off land, adrift among strangers whose ways we could not entirely understand. But something within us spoke the same language, for all our clashes of words. He did not trust me entirely; that much was certain. And I frequently frustrated him to the point of madness. But I knew that whatever bedeviled him, he had need of me—and it seemed a betrayal to turn my back upon one of my own kind. I had seldom met another such as we, and I had learned that to be a child of the wilderness was a lonely thing.

So, is this book truly a "romance?” Some readers would say "no,” given that there is not so much as a kiss. The underlying, unspoken sexual tension, however, is off the charts. In this respect, it is similar to the initial relationship between Lady Julia and Brisbane, and I am relieved to say that by the end I found Stoker attractive enough to make a potential romance appealing. I don't know that he will replace Brisbane as one of my favorite book-boyfriends, but I am eager to see him try.

Deanna Raybourn is quite a talented writer, and her adroit mixture of history, romance, and mystery have made her one of my favorites. In A Curious Beginning, she has put together a first-rate combination of plot, characters, and atmosphere that has me eagerly looking forward to spending a lot more time with Veronica and Stoker.
Profile Image for Caz.
2,761 reviews1,033 followers
July 26, 2016
I don't give 'em very often, but this one got a straight A from me at AAR.

I admit it. When I saw that Deanna Raybourn was going to be writing another series of mysteries set in the Victorian era featuring an independently-minded female protagonist, my initial thought was – “how are these books going to be different to the Lady Julia ones?” But I enjoyed both those and the author’s recent forays into the 1920s, so I was eager to read A Curious Beginning regardless - and Ms Raybourn, if you ever read this review, I humbly beg your forgiveness for the crumb of doubt I entertained, because it’s a terrific book and one that I raced through and couldn’t put down.

For sure, there are echoes of the author’s previous work in her two principals – Veronica Speedwell is forthright, pragmatic and resourceful, and Stoker is darkly and piratically handsome with a murky past – but the resemblances to Julia and Brisbane end there; and not once after my initial comparison did I ever think of either of them when reading. Ms Raybourn also pulls a nice piece of gender/role-reversal by making Veronica the more hard-headed and down-to-earth of the two while Stoker, beneath his gruff exterior, is more emotional and a bit of a romantic on the quiet.

Veronica Speedwell is an orphan who was brought up by two ladies she calls aunts, but who are not actually related to her. They have always moved around a lot, which while not something she enjoyed at the time, Veronica can in retrospect see has allowed her to develop independence and self-reliance. As she grew older Veronica became more and more frustrated with the strictures placed upon a young woman’s freedom, and took up butterfly hunting as a means of escaping into the countryside while still doing something ostensibly ladylike. But her diversion very quickly became a passion, and at eighteen, Veronica forged out on her own, travelling to Switzerland in order to find specimens not found in Britain. Since then, she has travelled frequently, and to very exotic parts of the world in order to indulge her passion for lepidoptery – and also, on occasion, has indulged in discreet affairs with the men who take her fancy.

Her most recent expedition to Costa Rica had to be cut short because she was summoned home to the deathbed of her Aunt Nell (her Aunt Lucy having died some years before). Not long after her arrival, her aunt dies and the book opens just as the funeral ends. Heading home to her cottage for the last time, Veronica is startled to find that it has been ransacked. Not only that, the intruder is still in the house, and – rather unwisely she later realises – she goes after him intent on apprehending him. Unfortunately, however, she fails to do so, and instead finds herself being dragged away to a waiting carriage – when another man interrupts the abduction attempt and dispenses with Veronica’s would-be kidnapper. The gentleman, a distinguished, older man, introduces himself as Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach and, insisting that Veronica’s life is in danger, insists she accompany him to London in his carriage.

Believing him to be suffering from a melodramatic delusion, but liking him nonetheless, Veronica agrees to go with him, secure in the knowledge that she has in her possession a number of weapons that she can bring out should the need arise. The baron continues to insist that her situation is perilous and hints that it is linked to the identities of her parents, whom Veronica never knew. The baron can tell her little, as it is not his secret to tell, but promises that he will reveal all as soon as he is permitted to do so. In the meantime, he is taking her to a place of safety, to the care of the man he trusts above all others.

Veronica’s first glimpse of Stoker is of his muscled, tattooed back, gleaming with sweat as he struggles with some sort of animal skeleton. She quickly realises that he, like her, is a scientist and student of natural history, and they just as quickly fall to needling each other, especially when Veronica insists that some of his specimens are incorrectly labelled and poorly cared for. Stoker is, quite simply, mean, moody and magnificent – both in Veronica’s and this reader’s opinion (!) and because he owes Max a debt of honour, he agrees to take Veronica in until such time as arrangements can be made for her safety.

An uneasy kind of mutual respect develops between the couple to the extent that Stoker allows Veronica to assist him with his current project – but when, just a day or so later, the pair sees the news of the Baron’s murder in the paper, Stoker very quickly hustles them out of London. Veronica might not believe herself to be in danger, but Max certainly did, and if he did, then so does Stoker. Added to this is the fact that Stoker knows his association with Max, and certain events from his past serve to make him a likely suspect, and the stage is set for a fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable adventure story which sees Veronica and Stoker facing peril, getting each other out of scrapes and eventually laying the foundations for a deep and lasting trust between them.

Although I’ve indicated the sensuality level for this story at N/A – there’s no need to be disappointed, because even though Veronica and Stoker don’t so much as exchange a kiss in this book, the sexual tension between them is so thick that it could be cut with a knife. Their quickfire verbal exchanges are full of wit and humour, and the relationship that develops between them beneath the surface sparring has some deeply heartfelt moments, such as when Veronica realises that they are alike in many ways, and how much she will miss him when their adventure is over. Ms Raybourn has very cleverly created an air of mystery around Stoker, revealing some things about his past in this book, and leaving others which we – and Veronica – are left desperately wanting to know, for future stories.

However, Stoker isn’t the only one with secrets in his past which could work against him; the difference is that he knows what his are, while Veronica has no idea why there are people out there trying to do away with her. The story that emerges about her origins is wonderfully audacious (although, given the personage involved, quite feasible, I suppose!) and the rest of that particular storyline is very well thought-out and the background well-researched.

Veronica is a terrific heroine – outspoken, practical and unsentimental – but there were times I felt she was bordering on caricature and her unconventionality began to seem like artifice. I got that she was an unusual young woman quite early on and didn’t need to be reminded of it quite so often, but that’s a minor criticism, because A Curious Beginning is a cracking read and one I’m recommending wholeheartedly.

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