Sunday, September 10, 2017

Book Review: 'A Curious Beginning' by Deanna Raybourn

Twenty-five year old naturalist Victoria Speedwell is an orphan who enjoys traveling to exotic locales. She is interested in all types of natural history, but butterflies are her passion and area of expertise. In 1887, after attending the funeral of her former guardian, Victoria looks forward to a carefree future. Unfortunately, in close succession, someone ransacks her cottage and a stranger who claims to have known her late mother warns her of impending danger. Before long, she is on her way to London, where her kindly benefactor places her under the protection of an eccentric and irritable (albeit mesmerizing) man named Stoker. He is foul-mouthed, unkempt, and impatient with Victoria's habit of speaking her mind.

Those who loved Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey will be delighted with Victoria Speedwell, an equally sassy and irreverent narrator. She is a free spirit; enjoys life's intellectual and sensual pleasures; and is curious, impetuous, sarcastic, and aggressively unconventional. When she teams up with Mr. Stoker to find a murderer and solve a puzzle that may shed light on her parentage, she throws herself into the role of amateur sleuth with gusto. Victoria and Stoker bicker constantly but gradually develop a grudging mutual respect.

"A Curious Beginning" is a breezy, diverting, and engaging romp. It is fun to observe the wheels in Victoria's brain turning. Stoker is a stereotype, but an entertaining one: He is a brilliant but troubled man with a dark past that he prefers not to discuss. Before long, he and Victoria are on the run, hoping to discover who wants to harm them and why. What they learn will shock even the usually imperturbable Speedwell. The author has a blast with a wild plot in which Victoria becomes part of a knife-throwing act in a traveling caravan. In addition the couple engages in a bit of breaking and entering to further their investigation and, unsurprisinigly, Stoker and Victoria become increasingly attracted to one another. The ending leaves a number of loose ends untied, setting us up for the forthcoming sequel.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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