Ah, Veronica. You’re the sassiest, most self-confident female protagonist I’ve ever come across in a Victorian setting, and I loved every minute of your snark. This was indeed A Curious Beginning to your story. I’m already excited to visit with you again in the future, and to see what further adventures you stumble your way into further along in the series.
“I abhorred weakness of any kind but most particularly in my tea.”
Veronica Speedwell is a woman far ahead of her time. An orphan raised by two spinsters who took her in as a foundling, Veronica grew up with shallow roots. Her “aunts” were constantly moving from place to place, and Veronica learned to be her own companion and to ignore the social dictates of the time that so governed women. The so called feminine arts of music and embroidery and the like held no appeal for her. Instead, Veronica became a lady scientist in an age when such a choice was unheard of, and she did it with panache. Veronica is a lepidopterist, or a scientist who studies butterflies. (How many of you knew the meaning of that word, or had ever even seen it? It was totally new to me.) When Veronica finds herself on the run from people who want to take her for reasons completely unknown to her, she finds herself reluctantly teamed with Stoker, a mysterious taxidermist who wants nothing to do with her. But a murder soon has them having to join forces, even resorting to joining a traveling circus for a time to hide from those who wished them harm. They must solve the murder and figure out why Veronica is being hunted, or they might never be free.
“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.”
My favorite element of this novel is the voice in which it is told. Veronica is, as mentioned earlier, incredibly snarky, and that comes across on every single page of this book. I found her voice and self-reliance and total faith in herself so refreshing. While Stoker was a great secondary character, Veronica was most definitely the star of the show. Remember when I said she was a woman ahead of her time? That is most apparent in her views towards sex, which were remarkably progressive for a female during the reign of Queen Victoria. She just doesn’t see the world at all as others of her period do. Veronica has no desire for a husband and a household to run and children to raise; she just wants to travel wherever adventure takes her, and hopefully collect rare butterflies along the way to sell to the highest bidder.
“Mrs. Clutterthorpe, I can hardly think of any fate worse than becoming the mother of six. Unless perhaps it were plague, and even then I am persuaded a few disfiguring buboes and possible death would be preferable to motherhood.”
I learned while reading this book. The lexicon employed by Raybourn is immense, and I added at least a dozen new words to my vocabulary. I’m also not a science person, but found the portrayal of science in A Curious Beginning thought-provoking without ever becoming too heavy to be enjoyable. Veronica is most assuredly not a dilettante, or one who merely dabbles in the sciences instead of becoming a true scientist. (See what I mean about the vocabulary?) She is a woman of science through and through, and can stand toe to toe with any male scientist on equal footing, without feeling like she is outclassed.
“I have faith that men can be as reasonable and logical as women if they but try.”
The mystery element of A Curious Beginning was fun and fairly fast-paced, and didn’t feel like a rehash of every historical fiction novel set in Victoria England, of which there are countless. A Curious Beginning felt fresh and engaging and I was never once bored by the plot. There were times when I rolled my eyes over plot points or decisions characters made or elements of the blossoming romance, but I was always entertained.
“One cannot innovate new improvements without understanding old failures.”
Historical fiction isn’t generally my thing, but I’m very glad I made an exception for A Curious Beginning. Veronica Speedwell is an absolutely wonderful character, who I will assuredly be revisiting from time to time. This book was a perfect cozy, sweet read for someone who needs some tart humor to counteract the sweet. If you’re a historical fiction fan and have yet to read this series, I highly recommend it.
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