First off, I am such a fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series (as well as a fan of her sharp tongue and general awesomeness on Twitter), that I
offered my firstborn in return for very nearly begged for a copy of this ARC. I was beyond thrilled when I was finally granted access via NetGalley.
Of course I read it straightaway, and I was not disappointed.
A Curious Beginning is the story of Veronica Speedwell, an independent woman of Victorian England who, once her only living family member passes away, is cast into the adventure of trying to discover the truth of who she really is.
She is joined by the gruff, rather hairy, tattooed, and candy-loving Stoker (who, Veronica notes, resembles a “fallen god”) as she works her way to the truth of her origins.
I appreciated several aspects of the novel, not the least of which is Veronica herself—she is educated, a feminist, a humanist, and she announces that the “traditional notions of feminine delicacy and helplessness are the purest poppycock.” Granted, she’s speaking in Victorian England…but it seems her words are still necessary today.
Also, I enjoyed Stoker as a character, a mystery of a man who does what he has a passion for, thumbs his nose at society, and loves boiled sweets. Not only that, he tells Veronica very early in their acquaintance, “A good teacher can change the course of a life.” Stoker 2016, I say.
The novel is well-researched and smartly written. I felt a true sense of place as I followed Veronica and Stoker on their journey, and I was drawn to the liveliness of their characters and the witty, biting repartee in which they engaged.
As an English teacher, I must of course mention the wordplay in the title. The beginning of the novel is curious enough—why on earth would a stranger be ransacking Wren Cottage right after Aunt Nell’s funeral? Why would a strange German baron arrive to spirit Veronica away to safety? What are Stoker’s secrets? But the story also focuses on the “curiosity” of Veronica’s own birth, and of course this book is the beginning of the time Raybourn’s readers get to spend with Veronica.
Curiosities abound, and readers will enjoy Veronica answering all of the above questions; and, I’m sure, will wait impatiently for the next installment in the Veronica Speedwell mystery series.