Highlander Undone by Connie Brockway

highlander undone 2

While recovering at his uncle’s estate from wounds sustained in the Sudan, Jack Cameron—a loyal Scottish captain in the British army—is haunted by the words of a dying officer: one of Her Majesty’s Black Dragoons is aiding the slavers they were sent to suppress. But how will he find the traitor without sending the culprit to ground? He finds a way while listening to the voices beneath his open window—particularly those of Addie Hoodless, a beautiful widow, and her brother, Ted, a famed artist commissioned to paint portraits of the Black Dragoons’ senior officers.

Posing as an artist, Jack decides to infiltrate the close circle of friends at Ted’s studio to listen in on the unguarded conversations of the officers. But first, he must win Addie’s trust despite the emotional wounds of her past. Will Jack dupe the only woman he has ever loved or stand down from hunting the traitor? If his real identity is exposed, Addie’s life will be in terrible danger.

Rating: B

Connie Brockway’s latest historical romance, Highlander Undone, boasts a dash of intrigue, a strong period feel, witty dialogue, a secondary romance (that cries out for its own book!) and a couple of engaging protagonists. It’s a well-crafted and enjoyable read, even though there are a few things that felt a bit rough around the edges and the set-up is a little weak.

John (Jack) Cameron, Captain of Her Majesty’s Cormack Highlanders is serving in the Sudan when he is badly wounded and sent back to England to recover and convalesce. He spends several months confined to bed in the quiet of the dower house on his great-uncle’s estate, and because he is bedridden, is an unintentional eavesdropper on the conversations that take place on the terrace outside his open bedroom window. The participants are most usually his aunt’s protégé, Ted Phyfe, a popular portraitist, and his sister, Addie Hoodless, the widow of an officer in the Black Dragoons.

Unaware they have an audience, Addie and Ted often speak of personal matters pertaining to Addie’s unhappy marriage to a man who consistently abused her and who injured Ted when the latter tried to intervene. Addie, once a vivacious, extrovert young woman has had the life literally beaten out of her; and even though she is now a widow, she is uncomfortable with men in general and with soldiers in particular, believing them to be as cruel and brutish as her late husband.

As Jack regains his health and strength, he recalls that in the moments before he was injured, he had received some truly shocking information. An officer in the Black Dragoons regiment was abusing his position in order to make enormous profits from the slave trade and, to protect those profits, had delayed important orders which ultimately caused the death of hundreds of soldiers. Jack has vowed to find the man responsible and have him brought to justice, but he can’t do anything openly. Alerting his superiors will bring the lumbering machinery of Whitehall into play, and that risks bringing any investigation out into the open and giving the culprit time to cover his tracks.

Overhearing that Ted has been commissioned to paint the portraits of a number of the officers in that very regiment, Jack realises that he has been given the ideal opportunity to gather information unobtrusively. His great-aunt is Ted’s patron, so Jack will easily be able to gain access to the artist’s studio and hang around to take advantage of the loosened tongues that the boredom of long sittings is bound to produce in Ted’s subjects.

The one possible stumbling block is Addie, who will certainly not welcome a former soldier into their circle. So Jack adopts the effete, unthreatening persona and flamboyant clothes of a dilettante, and, in spite of Ted’s initial caution, is made welcome. Addie is pleasantly surprised at her reaction to this attractive, seemingly gauche young man, recognising her feelings as attraction, something she hadn’t thought to feel ever again.

Jack is a wonderful hero – compassionate, clever and intuitive, with a biting wit which he wields as effectively as a rapier when called upon to do so. Even before he sets eyes on Addie, he is falling for her, and the reality of her only goes to strengthen his already strong attraction. That the attraction is reciprocated, he can’t doubt – but knowing of her hatred of military men, he daren’t hope for anything more between them once she knows the truth of his identity and of his mission to find the traitor. Yes, Jack lies to Addie by omission, but the author maintains the reader’s sympathy for him by leaving the reader in no doubt that he is deeply torn between his growing love for her and by his need to see justice done for his fallen comrades.

Although the reader never sees the abuse Addie endured at first-hand, Ms Brockway very cleverly shows us how badly she has been traumatised by the way she reacts to the men she meets. She withdraws into herself, almost trying to become invisible and Jack, knowing something of her history, is torn apart from just watching it. Gradually, however, with Jack’s friendship and support, Addie begins to re-invent herself and to rediscover the mischievous, lively young woman she used to be – and this is one of the strongest and most memorable elements of the book. There are a couple of wonderful moments when, believing Jack to be in danger, she actually forgets to be afraid and stands up for him, and it’s this instinct that lights the spark and shows her that she is perhaps stronger than she believed herself to be. The romance is well-developed and the couple has great chemistry, although I would have liked them to have spent a little more time alone.

I mentioned that there are some rough edges, and these are principally to do with the secondary storyline of the search for the villain – whose identity is never in question – so the story is more a “how do we catch him?” than a “whodunnit?”. I don’t have a problem with that, but the plotline doesn’t quite hang together and isn’t as well thought-out as the rest of the novel. Also, Ted’s just happening to be painting soldiers in the very regiment that Jack wanted to investigate, and Jack’s just happening to hear about it was too contrived for my taste. I realise fiction is often based on fortunate happenstance, but that was a convenience too far.

Those quibbles apart, however, Highlander Undone is worth reading for the central relationship alone, and for Jack, who is pretty much the perfect romantic hero.

Trapped by Scandal by Jane Feather (audiobook) – Narrated by Jill Tanner

trapped  by scandal

Lady Hero Fanshawe has chafed at society’s dictates since the death of her fiancé taught her that joy can be fleeting. When her brother disappears in Paris at the height of the Terror, she has no hesitation in disguising herself as a boy and risking her life to find him—or in joining forces with a chance-met ally, the enigmatic William Ducasse, Viscount St. Aubrey. And no regrets in indulging in a passionate affair with the dangerously handsome stranger in the shadow of the guillotine…

Half French, half English, William is committed to his shadow life, flirting with death to rescue imperiled aristocrats, and marriage is an indulgence he cannot afford. Once Hero returns to London, he refuses to risk her good name by continuing their liaison. But he has reckoned without the determined Hero’s disregard for propriety…or the dictates of his own treacherous heart.

Rating: C- for narration; D for content

The blurb for this book proudly trumpets the author’s “return to the Regency” – about a story set in 1795. If that had been the only thing wrong with Trapped by Scandal, I might have enjoyed it, a story of adventure and espionage on the streets of London and post-Revolutionary Paris with an intrepid heroine and a dashing hero intent on rescuing aristos from Madame La Guillotine. What I actually got was a pair of bland, unlikeable protagonists with zero chemistry, a non-existent romance and a pointless kidnap plot involving a cartoonish villain with a stupidly-shaped eyebrow. Sadly, he didn’t twirl it around while emitting an evil “Muahahahah!”

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Rogue You Know (Covent Garden Cubs #2) by Shana Galen

the rogue you know

She’s beyond his reach…
Gideon Harrow has spent his life in London’s dark underworld-and he wants out. A thief and a con, he plans one last heist to finally win his freedom. But when everything goes wrong, he finds himself at the tender mercies of one of Society’s most untouchable women-Lady Susanna Derring.

…and out of her depth.
Susanna has spent her life in London’s glittering ton, under the thumb of a domineering mother-and she wants out. When a wickedly charming rogue lands at her feet, she jumps at the chance to experience life before it’s too late. But as she descends into London’s underworld, she finds that nothing- not even Gideon-is as it seems. As excitement turns to danger, Susanna must decide what price she’s willing to pay…for the love of a reformed thief.

Rating: B

Like the previous book in Shana Galen’s Covent Garden Cubs series, The Rogue You Know features an engaging – if improbable – cross-class romance, this time between an aristocratic young woman and a thief who wants to get out of the game and make a better life for himself. We met Gideon Harrow briefly in Earls Just Want to Have Fun, when he helped its protagonists to dispose of a threat to the heroine, but while it helps to have a rough idea of who he is and how he relates to those events, it’s not absolutely necessary to have read that book, as this one works perfectly well as a standalone.

Lady Susanna Derring, sister to the Earl of Dane, is a very proper, well-brought up young lady who is never allowed to forget the importance of good ton and deportment by her overbearing mother. In fact, Susanna has been so properly raised that the constant need to be correct in all things is stifling her, and causing her to resent the Dowager Countess immensely. She cannot understand her mother’s suffocating over-protectiveness which extends to not even letting her go to the ladies’ retiring room on her own at the age of twenty!

On yet another boring visit to one of her mother’s acquaintances, Susanna at last manages to slip the noose for a few moments, and during that time is engaged in conversation by a malicious gossip who hints to Susanna that her mother might not have always been the upright, respectable matron she is now, and makes mention of events that may have taken place many years ago at Vauxhall Gardens. Susanna is instantly determined to go to Vauxhall to see if she can make any sense of the remarks made to her, but the Countess is adamant in her refusal to allow her to go.

Rookery thief Gideon Harrow is on the run from Beezle, the nasty piece of work who now runs the Cubs. He had agreed to do one last job – to steal an incredibly valuable diamond necklace – and planned to use the money he would earn to get out of London and make a fresh start somewhere else. Unfortunately, he ran into trouble during the theft and had to make a run for it, meaning that Beezle believes he has been double crossed. On the run from someone who knows the rookeries every bit as well as he does, Gideon heads for Mayfair instead, intending to hide the jewels at the home of his friend and former accomplice Marlowe, now the Countess of Dane.But when he quietly enters the house, he is promptly hit over the head by a young woman he vaguely recognises, who then proceeds to take the jewels from him and tells him she’ll return them to him if he will take her to Vauxhall Gardens.

Gideon can’t believe his ears – but has no alternative other than to agree if he wants to save his neck. Together, the pair slips out into the night, and for the first time, Susanna feels what it’s like to be free and to be doing something she wants to do rather than what she’s told.

Very soon, however, what she had thought would be a very simple adventure takes a wrong turn, and she and Gideon find themselves thrown from one difficult situation to another at lightning speed as they race through some of the darkest, most dangerous areas of London. This is a rollicking, fast-paced adventure yarn, with the action taking place over the course of little more than twenty-four hours, yet the romance doesn’t suffer from it or feel overly rushed. Gideon and Susanna strike sparks off each other from the get-go and their interactions are witty and often very funny. I did find Susanna a little hard to like at first, simply because she is SO innocent and insists on not following the instructions Gideon gives her for her own safety. Her obsession with getting to Vauxhall is also rather irritating and built on such a flimsy premise, but she grows up during the course of the book and finds the strength to take charge of her own life and to realise that there is more than one side to any story.

I liked the inclusion of the sub-plot concerning the Dowager Countess, seeing an older woman in a romance get her HEA long after she had stopped looking for it, and then, of course the reasons for her overprotectiveness of her daughter become apparent.

Gideon is an attractive hero – rough around the edges, but making the best of the hand life has dealt him. He’s had a hard life and done things he’s not proud of, but through his association with Susanna, discovers that he’s not quite the conscienceless scoundrel he’d believed himself to be. Both Gideon and Susanna have been trapped – by their upbringings, their pasts and what is expected of them, and I like the way Ms Galen shows the reader that they are both ready to begin anew.

While the book is mostly a fun, frothy adventure romp, it’s not without its more serious moments as the author once again reminds us of the truly terrible living conditions experienced by the less fortunate of London’s denizens. It’s not a heavy-handed message, but Ms Galen has certainly done her homework and her descriptions of the sights and sounds (and smells!) of the rookeries paint a vivid picture in the mind of the reader.

All in all, The Rogue You Know is an enjoyable story that makes good use of its setting away from the glittering ballrooms of the ton. Ms Galen writes with a sure, deft touch, and the story has plenty of humour as well as a real emotional depth in some of its more serious moments. I had fun reading it and am eagerly looking forward to Brook’s story in the next book.

Luck Be a Lady (Rules for the Reckless #4) by Meredith Duran

luck be a lady

They call her the Ice Queen. Catherine Everleigh is London’s loveliest heiress, but a bitter lesson in heartbreak has taught her to keep to herself. All she desires is her birthright – the auction house that was mercilessly stolen from her. To win this war, she’ll need a powerful ally. Who better than infamous crime lord Nicholas O’Shea? A marriage of convenience will serve them both.

Having conquered the city’s underworld, Nick seeks a new challenge. Marrying Catherine will give him the guise of legitimacy and access to her elite world – no one need know he’s coveted her for a year now. Their arrangement is strictly business, free from the weakness of love. Seduction, however, is an altogether different matter – an enticing game that he’s determined she’ll play, and what’s more, enjoy…

Rating: A

I haven’t yet met a book by Meredith Duran I didn’t at the very least like, and this one I LOVED. Everything about it just worked; the plot, the romance, the characterisations – it’s tightly written and incredibly well-researched, and the central relationship is wonderful. I love a good “marriage of convenience” story – it’s my favourite trope in the genre – and this is a very good one.

In lieu of a proper review, I’m linking to the Pandora’s Box discussion I had with Dabney over at All About Romance’s Blog.

Scotsman of My Dreams (MacIain #2) by Karen Ranney (audiobook) – Narrated by John Lee

scotsman of my dreams audio

Once the ton’s most notorious rake, Dalton MacIain has returned from his expedition to America during the Civil War – wounded and a changed man. Instead of returning to his old haunts, he now spends his time at home. But Dalton’s peace is disturbed when Minerva Todd barges into his London townhouse, insisting he help search for her missing brother, Neville. Though Dalton would love to spend more time with the bewitching beauty, he has no interest in finding Neville, whom he blames for his injury.

Minerva has never met a more infuriating man than the earl of Rathsmere, yet she is intrigued by the torrid rumors she has heard about him…and the fierce attraction pulling her toward him.

Dalton does not count on Minerva’s persistence or the desire she awakens in him, compelling him to discover her brother’s fate. But when danger surrounds them, Dalton fears he will lose the tantalizing, thoroughly unpredictable woman he has come to love.

Rating: B for narration; B- for content

The second in Karen Ranney’s current MacIain series, Scotsman of My Dreams is an enjoyable character-driven romance in which the reclusive, wounded hero meets the unusual young woman who is destined to help him rebuild his life.

Hellraiser Dalton MacIain, bored with the predictability of his life in London and wanting excitement, left England with a group of followers in order to fight in the American Civil War. Deciding which side to fight for on the toss of a coin, five, including Dalton, fought for the Union while the remaining seven men joined the Confederate army. Dalton very soon learned that the gruesome realities of war were a far cry from the glory and adventure he had anticipated, and is contemplating a return home when he is shot in the face, losing one eye and the sight in the other. Following months of convalescence in America, he returns home to be greeted with the news that his older brother has been killed in a hunting accident, and that he, Dalton, is now the Earl of Rathsmere.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Captain’s Frozen Dream by Georgie Lee

captains frozen dream

Can he salvage her reputation?

Trapped in the Arctic ice, intrepid explorer Captain Conrad Essington was driven on by thoughts of his fiancée, Katie Vickers. Finally home, he’s ready to take her in his arms and kiss away the nightmare of that devastating winter.

Except the last eighteen months haven’t been plain sailing for Katie either. With Conrad believed dead and her reputation in tatters, Katie had relinquished hope of her fiancé ever returning to save her. Now he’s back, could the dreams they’d both put on hold at last come true?

Rating: C

The Captain’s Frozen Dream is a tale of lovers reunited after a year-and-a-half’s separation. Both have endured much in the months since last they saw each other, but those events have profoundly changed them both – perhaps so much so that they will never be able to recapture the feelings they once held for one another.

Captain Conrad Essington took up a commission in the Discovery Service rather than remain in the Navy as a half-pay officer without a ship following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. He has become a respected and well-known explorer, in spite of the efforts of his bitter, twisted uncle, the Marquess of Helton to prevent his advancement. But Conrad’s most recent expedition to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage went seriously awry, and saw him and his crew stranded in dangerous, inhospitable conditions for eighteen months, a situation for which Conrad blames himself.

Conrad had an understanding with a young woman, Katie Vickers, the daughter of a country doctor-turned-palaeontologist, who often worked on the finds from the captain’s expeditions, cleaning and cataloguing the items that Conrad brought back with him. Before leaving for the Arctic, Conrad asked Katie to marry him, but she wanted to wait until his return before making any firm commitment. Furious at the prospect of a nobody polluting the aristocratic Helton line, the marquess caused Katie’s father’s work to be discredited, and made sure her reputation was shredded in Conrad’s absence, so that nobody, even the more liberal of the scientific societies, will take her work seriously.

When Conrad eventually returns, it’s to find a very different Katie to the open, optimistic young woman he left behind. She has had to cope with the death of her father as well as the scandal not of her making, and is still angry with Conrad for leaving and for not being there for her when she needed him. For his part, Conrad is haunted by the events that led to the loss of his ship and his crew being stranded, and also for the death of one of his closest friends among the crew. It was the thought of Katie and returning to her that enabled him to carry on through some of the darkest days of his life – and yet now he is home, she persists in pushing him away.

Conrad is determined to win her back but has underestimated the difficulty of the challenge he has set himself. Katie is emotionally fragile and determined never again to place her happiness in the hands of someone who – she believes – can never be content staying in one place.

The thing I enjoyed about this book was the author’s use of a rather unusual background for her story, which is set amongst the scientific community in the early years of the 19th century. As she explains in her note at the end, fossil hunting, the study of ancient creatures and attempts to date different geological periods in rock strata was an area of growing scientific interest worldwide at this period, and she has referenced the work of several experts of the time and included some as characters in the book. She also makes it clear just how difficult it was for a woman to be taken seriously in such circles, and her research into the scientific background, both in terms of the geological detail and the work of the intrepid explorers of the 19th century is clearly extensive.

As a romance, however, the story is less successful, mostly because it’s difficult to like or sympathise with Katie and the majority of her actions towards Conrad. It’s very true that through no fault of her own – other than falling in love with the nephew of a powerful aristocrat – she has been vilified in society, and owing to that and to the fact that her father’s death left her with nothing but debt, her life has become one big struggle. Growing up with a father who paid her little attention until she was old enough to assist him in his work, and knowing that her father’s obsession with his fossils was the causeof her mother’s leaving them both, Katie finds it difficult to trust Conrad, sure that he will abandon her eventually because he is as obsessed with his work as her father was with his. I don’t think one can blame her for feeling that way – the problem is that for almost all of the book she refuses to attempt to see another point of view or admit that perhaps she is allowing her past to dictate her actions to the detriment of her happiness. Conrad wants only to help her, to help to put right the damage done by his uncle and to marry her, yet she runs away from him and rejects him repeatedly. Fortunately for her, Conrad is persistent, but after the third rebuff, I was starting to think that perhaps he’d be better off without her! At one point, Conrad finally snaps and accuses Katie of blaming him for everything that has gone wrong in her life – and it’s true. All she sees are her own problems, yet even though she has realised that Conrad isn’t exactly the same man as the one that went away, she is so self-focused on her grievances and hurt that she fails to see that he’s hurting, too.

The writing is solid and as I’ve said above, Ms Lee has obviously done her homework when it comes to the historical setting and background, but although I normally enjoy stories of lovers reunited, The Captain’s Frozen Dream didn’t quite hit the mark for me in the romance department.

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn

A curious beginning

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

Rating: A

I admit it. When I saw that Deanna Raybourn was going to be writing another series of mysteries set in the Victorian era featuring an independently-minded female protagonist, my initial thought was – “how are these books going to be different to the Lady Julia ones?” But I enjoyed both those and the author’s recent forays into the 1920s, so I was eager to read A Curious Beginning regardless – and Ms Raybourn, if you ever read this review, I humbly beg your forgiveness for the crumb of doubt I entertained, because it’s a terrific book and one that I raced through and couldn’t put down.

For sure, there are echoes of the author’s previous work in her two principals – Veronica Speedwell is forthright, pragmatic and resourceful, and Stoker is darkly and piratically handsome with a murky past – but the resemblances to Julia and Brisbane end there; and not once after my initial comparison did I ever think of either of them when reading. Ms Raybourn also pulls a nice piece of gender/role-reversal by making Veronica the more hard-headed and down-to-earth of the two while Stoker, beneath his gruff exterior, is more emotional and a bit of a romantic on the quiet.

Veronica Speedwell is an orphan who was brought up by two ladies she calls aunts, but who are not actually related to her. They have always moved around a lot, which while not something she enjoyed at the time, Veronica can in retrospect see has allowed her to develop independence and self-reliance. As she grew older Veronica became more and more frustrated with the strictures placed upon a young woman’s freedom, and took up butterfly hunting as a means of escaping into the countryside while still doing something ostensibly ladylike. But her diversion very quickly became a passion, and at eighteen, Veronica forged out on her own, travelling to Switzerland in order to find specimens not found in Britain. Since then, she has travelled frequently, and to very exotic parts of the world in order to indulge her passion for lepidoptery – and also, on occasion, has indulged in discreet affairs with the men who take her fancy.

Her most recent expedition to Costa Rica had to be cut short because she was summoned home to the deathbed of her Aunt Nell (her Aunt Lucy having died some years before). Not long after her arrival, her aunt dies and the book opens just as the funeral ends. Heading home to her cottage for the last time, Veronica is startled to find that it has been ransacked.  Not only that, the intruder is still in the house, and – rather unwisely she later realises – she goes after him intent on apprehending him. Unfortunately, however, she fails to do so, and instead finds herself being dragged away to a waiting carriage – when another man interrupts the abduction attempt and dispenses with Veronica’s would-be kidnapper. The gentleman, a distinguished, older man, introduces himself as Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach and, insisting that Veronica’s life is in danger, insists she accompany him to London in his carriage.

Believing him to be suffering from a melodramatic delusion, but liking him nonetheless, Veronica agrees to go with him, secure in the knowledge that she has in her possession a number of weapons that she can bring out should the need arise. The baron continues to insist that her situation is perilous and hints that it is linked to the identities of her parents, whom Veronica never knew. The baron can tell her little, as it is not his secret to tell, but promises that he will reveal all as soon as he is permitted to do so. In the meantime, he is taking her to a place of safety, to the care of the man he trusts above all others.

Veronica’s first glimpse of Stoker is of his muscled, tattooed back, gleaming with sweat as he struggles with some sort of animal skeleton. She quickly realises that he, like her, is a scientist and student of natural history, and they just as quickly fall to needling each other, especially when Veronica insists that some of his specimens are incorrectly labelled and poorly cared for. Stoker is, quite simply, mean, moody and magnificent – both in Veronica’s and this reader’s opinion (!) and because he owes Max a debt of honour, he agrees to take Veronica in until such time as arrangements can be made for her safety.

An uneasy kind of mutual respect develops between the couple to the extent that Stoker allows Veronica to assist him with his current project – but when, just a day or so later, the pair sees the news of the Baron’s murder in the paper, Stoker very quickly hustles them out of London. Veronica might not believe herself to be in danger, but Max certainly did, and if he did, then so does Stoker. Added to this is the fact that Stoker knows his association with Max, and certain events from his past serve to make him a likely suspect, and the stage is set for a fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable adventure story which sees Veronica and Stoker facing peril, getting each other out of scrapes and eventually laying the foundations for a deep and lasting trust between them.

Although I’ve indicated the sensuality level for this story at N/A – there’s no need to be disappointed, because even though Veronica and Stoker don’t so much as exchange a kiss in this book, the sexual tension between them is so thick that it could be cut with a knife. Their quickfire verbal exchanges are full of wit and humour, and the relationship that develops between them beneath the surface sparring has some deeply heartfelt moments, such as when Veronica realises that they are alike in many ways, and how much she will miss him when their adventure is over. Ms Raybourn has very cleverly created an air of mystery around Stoker, revealing some things about his past in this book, and leaving others which we – and Veronica – are left desperately wanting to know, for future stories.

However, Stoker isn’t the only one with secrets in his past which could work against him; the difference is that he knows what his are, while Veronica has no idea why there are people out there trying to do away with her. The story that emerges about her origins is wonderfully audacious (although, given the personage involved, quite feasible, I suppose!) and the rest of that particular storyline is very well thought-out and the background well-researched.

Veronica is a terrific heroine – outspoken, practical and unsentimental – but there were times I felt she was bordering on caricature and her unconventionality began to seem like artifice. I got that she was an unusual young woman quite early on and didn’t need to be reminded of it quite so often, but that’s a minor criticism, because A Curious Beginning is a cracking read and one I’m recommending wholeheartedly.