Genres: Historical Romance, Romantic Suspense
Published by NAL
Released on September 1, 2015
A new series with a favorite author? I’m in. And check out that gorgeous cover!
Off subject a little, I was a little late to the party and got hints from folks that the mystery of the heroine’s identity would be big. I want to thank those who read, discussed, and reviewed this one already for not spoiling my pleasure in discovering that whopper of a reveal for myself.
So…after that, I’ll bet curiosity has heightened about this book. And well it should, folks. The author has done it again with her talented ability to write an engaging, new heroine who bears little resemblance to her other heroines. Veronica Speedwell is late Victorian age heroine who intrepidly speaks her mind, does her thing, and does it with panache. This book was just the fantastic opener to an exciting and intriguing new series of adventures and its early yet, but I see myself groaning with disappointment each time I reach the last page of each new installment.
The story opens with Veronica Speedwell attending to the funeral of the last of her two spinster guardians. Veronica came to them as an orphan and the three lived quiet, uneventful lives other than the frequent moves from village to village until Veronica came of age and was able to pursue adventure through her naturalist hobby of expeditions to find, study, and sometimes sell rare butterflies around the world. What the spinster sisters never knew was that Veronica explored more than butterflies on these journeys. She was a woman with strong appetites, but was also disciplined in that she would have dalliances with foreign men exploring sexuality, but she had a hard and fast rule that England was home and English men off the menu.
Now that she had nothing holding her back or holding her down, she was eager to depart the latest boring, little village and head off to find some new butterflies and see new places. This plan is derailed when a mysterious Prussian Baron comes shortly after a break-in at the cottage to announce that she is in danger and hints that he knew her mother and the circumstances of her birth.
Veronica is skeptical about any danger since she considers herself of little interest to anyone feeling that strongly, but the clue to her past is enough to send her off with this kind gentleman stranger who then turns her over to his associate for safekeeping while he makes some contacts.
Her new caregiver, Mr. Stoker, is scruffy, rude, brooding, but seems very much capable of keeping physical harm at bay. He wants nothing to do with her, but agrees because his old friend asks it of him. Stoker is a compelling and interesting study to the keen Veronica and they share a love of natural history and exploration.
[quote]When we had finished, he reached for a tin and withdrew a cigar, lighting it with a spill from the stove. He drew in great lungfuls of poisonously strong tobacco smoke, blowing it out in long exhalations. He caught my stare and gave me a mocking glance. “Where are my manners? Would you like a puff?” he asked, extending the cigar.
I returned his gaze coolly. “No, thank you. I brought my own.” With that, I went to my carpetbag and drew out a packet of slim cigarillos, lighting one as he had done with a twist of paper at the stove. He stared at me in stupefaction until I blew out a perfect smoke ring, then gave a grudging laugh.
“Where did you acquire the habit?”
“Costa Rica,” I told him. “And your cigar is inferior tobacco.”
Loc. 478 Stoker and Veronica from A Curious Beginning[/quote]
Before she gets settled in with Stoker, the Baron is murdered and they are forced to go on the run. Stoker is infuriated and grief-stricken over the death of his friend. He is determined to find the culprit and Veronica is determined to have her part in the detecting. They grumble and grouse their way keeping one step ahead of danger that seems to dodge their steps. After clues start to more than hint, Veronica is forced to concede that her closed past may hold the answers to the present and that her ‘no Englishman rule’ might be tested by the charismatic Mr. Stoker whose past is as intriguing to her as her own.
Alright, so this is something more than any one genre with its blend of historical fiction, suspense and romance elements. It is set against the backdrop of England during the later Victorian period and days preceding Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The settings shift from the English countryside, to the East End of London and points in between. Historical authenticity is colorfully painted into the background to add a lovely layer behind the steady moving plot. The plot varies between character sketching, relationship building, and action.
Veronica is the narrator and this makes sense as this is her story. She is an amusing narrator with her vivid personality and remarkable, quirky thinking dazzling the reader. She is somewhat an unreliable narrator even though she is faithful with the facts and has keen observation skills. It isn’t the observation, but her interpretations of what she observes at times in question. For the most part, she is brilliant and too smart for her bloomers. But the way she was reared in isolation, pretty much self-educated while having a personality that is domineering, self-contained, and self-possessed means that she treats social interaction scientifically and other people as specimens so misses the nuances that the reader sees particularly when it comes to Stoker. This is not a bad thing; no, it is humorous and also serves to humanize a character that might otherwise be boring in her flawlessness.
[quote]”You cannot discount a theory simply because it does not suit your prejudices,” he reminded me. “That is bad science.”
“And this is not science.”
Loc 3693 Stoker and Veronica from A Curious Beginning[/quote]
Veronica is the main character, but Stoker is a strong and very present secondary character. He is an enigma wrapped up in an infuriating mystery so he is the perfect partner for a woman who is her own person, brilliant, and very capable. Stoker might be irascible and he gives as good as he gets in battles of wits with Veronica who is not used to that, but he is content to support her and he does respect Veronica. Veronica drives the man to painting the air blue with swearing and strong drink, but he gets under her skin, too. She wants to know what all his secrets are and it bothers her that she can barely touch the surface when usually men are an open-book and no challenge to her. Stoker is a little bit of everything and has hidden depth that he hides until absolutely necessary.
[quote]”I must say, this makes an improvement, Mr. Stoker. I thought you entirely incapable of initiative, but I am very glad to see that I was wrong. I think there is every possibility of your making a thorough success of yourself if you continue on in this vein. Of course, one could wish you would turn your energies to something more profitable and wholesome than felonious abduction, but it makes a start, does it not?”
I smiled pleasantly at him, and he glowered at me from his seat opposite. I was thoroughly satisfied with how swiftly he had turned to anger, and I made a note of it for future encounters.
Loc 920 Veronica from A Curious Beginning[/quote]
[quote]”Whatever it is, whatever ugly truths are resting in that bank, you will face them squarely. You have an odd sort of courage, Veronica. It will see you through.”
“Whatever happens tomorrow, I am glad you will be there.”
“You may rely upon it,” he said, but his familiar mocking smile was not in evidence for once, and I believed he meant it.”
Loc 3333 Stoker from A Curious Beginning[/quote]
Along with these two leads are a host of delightful secondary characters who share the scenes with them. A little street urchin, an eccentric lord and his well-educated gentle sister, a host of odd specimens in a traveling show, and the others who follow and hide in the shadows that may be friend or foe.
The murder wasn’t particularly complicated, but the mystery of Veronica’s origins was. There was some foreshadowing so it wasn’t a complete shocker, but man, it was still huge. That end life and death scene was a real nailbiter.
I loved where things left off and set the table for what is to come in the series. As much as I love the author’s Lady Julia series, I think Veronica’s stories will be just as entertaining. Historical mystery, fiction, and romantic suspense lovers should take a look at this bright, sparkling new series with its engaging, amusing heroine.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Cliché Klatch #189 ‘a battle of wits’
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New to Me #149 series