(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Veronica Speedwell is far from a typical Victorian woman. Raised by two spinster "aunts," she has lived all over, never lingering in one place for long. Caring little about convention, she pursues her interest in lepidoptery with passion. By selling rare species to collectors, she's able to finance her own exploratory trips to far-off locales, where she captures as many hearts as butterflies. At 25, she's happy to be a spinster who's free to pursue her scientific studies and brief love affairs in exotic lands.
After the recent death of her last living guardian, Veronica is preparing to embark on her most intriguing journey of all. Then fate intervenes in the form of a villain intent on harming Veronica. Having foiled his dastardly plan, the intrepid young lady finds herself whisked away by Baron von Stauffenbach, a kindly older man who claims to have all the answers she's seeking—not just about the person who's chasing her and his reasons for doing so, but also about the mother she never knew. Wary but knowing her life could be in danger if she stays, Veronica agrees to accompany the man to London. Once there, she's left in the protective custody of another stranger, a mysterious brute of a man named Stoker. Considering his "appalling manners and questionable hygiene" (31), she's shocked to discover he's none other than Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, a once-revered, now-disgraced natural historian.
When the Baron is murdered, Stoker becomes the prime suspect. With both of their necks on the line, Veronica and the surly naturalist team up to find the real killer. On the run from an unknown—but dangerous—enemy, the duo searches for answers to their puzzling, perilous situation. As the unwitting partners match wits, they make startling discoveries, revelations that will change the way they see the world—and each other. Will these epiphanies help them apprehend their friend's killer? Or will they become the next victims?
It's impossible to explain just how charming is A Curious Beginning, the first book in a new historical mystery series by Deanna Raybourn. With appealing characters, witty dialogue, a twisty mystery, and plenty of heart-pounding action, the novel is can't-put-it-down compelling. Veronica Speedwell makes for an especially delightful heroine, one about whom I'm anxious to read more. Seriously, I adored every word (especially "Excelsior!") of this entertaining tale. I'm anxiously awaiting a sequel.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. You?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (no F-bombs), violence, sexual innuendo, and sensuality