Thursday, September 16, 2021

Deanna Raybourn - A Curious Beginning

London, 1887.
After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell 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 intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.
But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

Comment: I have been interested in this book for years but only now did I manage to get to it, with the influence of my friend H., for this is another of our buddy read picks.

In this story we meet intrepid and adventurous Veronica Speedwell, a young woman with no reticence to do as she pleases in all matters, especially since she loves to travel and have her independence as well as she can, more so among the strict social structure of the late 1800s England. Veronica is brave and has no fear to be herself but she was not counting on the sudden situation in which she sees herself right after her last aunt is buried. This means she has no ties anymore, she was already planning her new journey but suddenly a man shows up saying she is in danger and needs to go with him. Following her instinct, she believes him and they travel to the house of mr Stoker, with whom she is to stay until the man learns more about what is happening that is putting her in danger. However, he dies and now Veronica and Stoker need to hide and investigate the whole business themselves...

I saw how well liked this book was by some of the people whose taste is similar with mine and I was confident I'd like the book too. In fact, this was a good surprise, I found the story to be fun and engaging and the characters likable. Of course, being the first book and seeing that there are more installments, we don't learn all the secrets alluded to or mentioned by the characters regarding their lives, but I liked what I read and feel curious enough to keep going.

The story begins with Veronica, a very clever and adventurous young woman, attending the funeral of her last aunt, someone she wasn't emotionally close to but who she felt she must honor, for this aunt and another were the reason why orphaned Veronica ever had a home. However, now her ties are all severed, she feels she can go on another adventure free as the butterflies she so adores and which are the reason for all her travels. However, sudden things happen and she must change her course. Still, Veronica isn't afraid to change her plans, for she isn't bound by the usually strict rules of society.

I liked Veronica as a woman who had to live within a society that puts too many rules and labels on women who don't behave according to the norm. She did her thing, she never went over the top and I felt I could really admire her but I confess I wish we could have had more scenes with her more vulnerable side, for often it seemed she could do no wrong and was always right in her decisions. As a counterpart, Stoker was strong yes but his flaws seemed to be more obviously presented, thus making them similar in some things (courage, loyalty) but not on others (self confidence on one's name, knowing everything) so at the time they feel more like a forced pair of partners than a potentially perfect team.

I mean, I suppose the goal is to slowly develop the relationship between these two from partners in investigating cases/mysteries to becoming a loving couple.. although by their personalities this should take some time... I'm saying this because the tone of the book is clearly an easy, fun and unassuming one. There's no big dramas, no tragedies being kept hidden or used for tears...perhaps I should say that although there were scenes where I liked this easier, breezier approach, other times I felt things were a little too superficial and I'd have liked more depth.

This means, therefore, that the relationship now feels like they are buddies, just having common goals, sharing attraction but using their own personal rules to not start something they aren't certain off... I wish the vibe would be along the feel of pining but the author has a style that reminds me more of "unaffected", in the sense they act and behave as friends but as if things aren't that special or important. I guess this is a way for things to feel stronger when change does happen but for me it felt as if their connection wasn't truly as unique.

The mystery being investigated is really an imaginative one, the author certainly thought things in a believable process. I haven't investigated the historical facts of the real people mentioned in the book to see if there's some (at least) speculation to the theory being presented, but it was certainly a clever pot choice. The plot isn't set on exaggerated issues or complicated connections, but I was intrigued and between that and the character development, I had a good time reading this book.

I will definitely read the next installment at some point.
Grade: 8/10

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