This is the first book in the new series by Ms Raybourn, introducing intrepid adventuress and lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell. As per the book blurb:
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.
Veronica Speedwell is one of those heroines who seems to be ahead of her time – she’s independent, clever and sexually curious. Raised by two spinster aunts, she’d never known her father and only a few memories of her mother. Her plans to take off on another adventure are thwarted when she interrupts a burglar in her home after the funeral. Then a mysterious man arrives, tells her he is a German baron who knows about her parentage and needs to protect her. With her home vandalized, and no other options open to her, she goes off to London with him where he leaves her with his trusted ally, Stoker. Then the Baron ends up dead, and Veronica and Stoker hit the road to avoid the same fate.
At this point, the story seemed to drag somewhat as they join up with a travelling circus that Stoker had been involved with previously. He doesn’t quite trust Veronica, and is loathe to let her out of his sight in case she might be involved in the Baron’s death. There’s a lot of mysterious references to Stoker’s past, and his backstory seems complicated. He’s a taxidermist and adventurer, who is by turn grumpy and suspicious, but overall an honorable man. He’s also sexy as hell – described as piratical in appearance, with longer hair, an earring, tattoos and a muscular body.
Eventually they leave the circus, and the story picked up again for me. The two of them have to lean to work together to solve the mystery of Veronica’s parentage, and to understand why someone might out to harm her. There isn’t much for sexual encounters in this book, but the attraction between Veronica and Stoker is definitely smoldering beneath the surface, and their snappy dialogue was well written. Veronica has a rule about her sexual encounters – no Englishmen, but she admits he is quite appealing. “After all, I might not intend to use him for a plaything, but I could still appreciate looking through the toy-shop window.”
Overall, it was an entertaining read, even though Veronica comes off a bit too modern sometimes. The mystery had a few twists, and I really wasn’t expecting the outcome and the reveal of her family. I hadn’t read any of Ms Raybourn’s books before this one, but I’m ready to dive into book 2 of this series, and then check out some of the Lady Julia Grey series. I’m always happy to find a new author with a big backlist to explore.