by Deanna Raybourn
Series: Veronica Speedwell #1
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication Date: July 12, 2016
Reading Challenges: 2018 Romance Roundabout Challenge, January - March 2018 Quarterly Challenge
In her thrilling new series, Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England...and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.
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.
I adore Ms. Raybourn’s books. I’ve read the majority of the Lady Julia Grey novels, so I decided to pick up her new series. I think I love Veronica Speedwell even more! As usual, this book had me giggling hysterically and wanting to quote large sections of the book.
“I am a lepidopterist with a penchant for handsome men and an otherwise entirely unremarkable life. What I present is no more and no less than exactly what I am. I have no protective coloration, Mr. Stoker. And you must believe me when I say I will do everything in my power to clear my name.”
Veronica Speedwell is independent, and while she understands social norms, she’s also good at deciding which ones she can get away with flaunting (for instance, she’ll only have affairs with non-Englishmen). She’s got an extremely scientific bent, and she’s put it towards one of the more feminine-friendly areas of scientific exploration in Victorian England – butterflies! Now, am I a particular fan of the Victorian habit of collecting trophies? No, but I was able to overlook that as there was no actual killing of animals or insects in this book (people, yes; critters, no), though the taxidermy process of an elephant was discussed. When her guardian passes away, most well-bred women would be distraught at finding themselves without a family, home, or means of support. Veronica, on the other hand, is overjoyed, because it’s finally time to escape England again and go on butterfly-finding adventures around the world.
“’Miss Speedwell, I have hiked the length of the Amazon River. I have been accosted by native tribes and shot twice. I have nearly met my death by quicksand, snakebite, poisoned arrows, and one particularly fiendish jaguar. And I have never, until this moment, been quite so surprised by anything as I am by you.’
‘I shall take that as a fine compliment indeed, Mr. Stoker.’”
Of course, things don’t go according to plan, and after a break-in at her aunt’s cottage, she allows herself to be whisked away to London (saving her the cost of a train ticket, after all) by a mysterious Baron and then deposited with a taciturn, cranky taxidermist. Stoker is a delightfully Gothic hero. He initially agrees to watch Veronica as a favor to the Baron, and then ends up on the run with her, to his dismay and irritation. There seems to be a lot of backstory behind Stoker’s attitude, and, fair warning, most of it is not uncovered in this book.
“’I will appeal to your sense of logic. If I do not know you are gone and where you are bound, how will I know if you are in distress?’
‘Should I be in distress? In a meadow? You mean if the cows organize some sort of attack? I have extensive experience with cows. They almost never do that.'”
The chemistry between Veronica and Stoker is simply lovely. More than that, though, I love the partnership they formed between them, and how well they understood each other. They end up in some weird situations (I, for one, was not expecting a traveling circus), and, slowly, grow to trust each other. Their banter is witty, smart, and snappy, and between it and the compelling storyline, I simply couldn’t put this book down.
“As much as I want the rest of the world, there is some part of me so rooted in this island, I cannot shake the pull of it. For all the glories I have seen, the mountains and the seas and the horizon itself, stretching to the furthest reaches of the eye, there is nothing to touch an English morning in spring.”
This is, in some ways, both a continuation of the classic Victorian mystery novel, and a subversion of it. The plot, however, was relatively easy to guess, but I still enjoyed the journey of it. Though the pacing went in fits and starts, with some slow sections followed by a flurry of activity, and then back to slow again, I still found the book unbelievably addicting.
Overall, this is a delightful, witty, meaty book, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: