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"A Curious Beginning" by Deanna Raybourn

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Well-paced and plotted with admirably high improbability, A Curious Beginning introduces the dynamic duo of Miss Veronica Speedwell and Mr. Revelstoke Templeton-Vane. The story is set in Victorian London and our heroes face a plot that not only threatens their lives, but could also topple the most powerful monarchy on Earth. The pair struggle with trust issues early on, but form a formidable team which promises many delights in the books to come.

And readers will avidly receive and follow the exploits of Ms. Raybourn’s plucky, determined hero and her partner in the books to come, I’m sure of it. The author has expertly introduced enough issues between the two to keep readers’ energies focused for many entries in this new series.

As they try to learn each others’ truths, the highly appealing pair find themselves pawns in high-level machinations against the British Imperial throne. These schemes focus on two hot buttons for Queen Victoria: the Irish Home Rule question, and the identity of her successor to the throne. These issues bring a grand load of weight and urgency to the proceedings - far be it from my disbelief not to be willingly suspended. The mystery, the heroes’ intrepid handling of all threats to life, limb, and Empire, and the supporting characters’ motives and actions, are all very strong points in the book’s favor. I feel comfortable recommending it based on these.

But I feel I can’t do justice to the two heroes. In an introductory story, they match wits and tempers, they verbally spar, eventually they work as a cohesive unit - they are memorably introduced here. They treat each other in a highhanded manner, as befits a staunch Victorian man and a willful woman equal to his every objection. However, these scenes dominate the bulk of the book, and I found myself tiring of all the personal conflict. This may have been the author’s intent. After all, their lives are in jeopardy and at stake throughout the whole book. However, there’s a slight awkwardness in the presentation - certain of the scenes proceeded with an emotional herky jerkiness that could have been handled more smoothly.

Overall, however, I fully expect these two vivid characters will settle on investigative strategies and tactics for escaping the close scrapes and tight spaces that will inevitably lie in the path ahead. Ms. Raybourn has introduced a new series, and in particular, two new protagonists, in this exciting and assured effort. Climb aboard and buckle your seatbelt - this promises to be one stylish ride!

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