Review by Em
Note: This review contains spoilers for earlier books in the series.
In A Treacherous Curse, Deanna Raybourn continues to detail the adventurous lives of heroine Veronica Speedwell, a professional lepidopterist, and her associate the Honorable Revelstoke (“Stoker”) Templeton-Vane, a scientist and natural historian. If you are new to the series, you will be lost starting with this novel – you should pick-up A Curious Beginning, and begin there instead. The series is supremely well written, the heroine is smart, clever and different, and she’s well matched by the dreamy, enigmatic Stoker – they’re well worth your time and attention. In A Treacherous Curse, Ms. Raybourn finally fills in Stoker’s backstory and makes abundantly clear Veronica’s affection and devotion to her partner. The mystery at its heart – featuring an Egyptian princess and a curse – is an intriguing departure from the first two novels and I was captivated by it, and its relationship to Stoker’s backstory, from start to finish. Unfortunately, the slow burn romantic relationship between Veronica and Stoker continues apace – and for this romance reader, the lack of romantic development somewhat detracted from my overall enjoyment of the novel.
At the beginning of the story, Veronica and Stoker are summoned to meet with from Sir Hugo Montgomerie, the head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch. Sir Hugo informs them that John de Morgan, principal photographer of Sir Leicester Tiverton’s (in)famous dig in Egypt, is missing, along with a rare royal diadem from the excavation of the tomb of Princess Ankheset. De Morgan, along with his wife Caroline, was traced as far as Dover, but after spending a night (in separate rooms) at a local inn, he and the diadem vanished. Caroline has gone into hiding after rough handling by the local police, and rumors of a curse attached to Princess Ankheset’s sarcophagus are rampant – one person on the dig is dead; witnesses claim to have seen the sinister figure of Anubis (the Egyptian god of the dead) near the site; de Morgan is missing; and Tiverton was forced to shut down the site and return to England – so it’s only a matter of time before the press gets hold of the story. Once they establish a link between the Stoker and the missing man – John was Stoker’s former best friend and after Caroline divorced Stoker, she married de Morgan and the pair publicly maligned Stoker and sent his life into a downward spiral – they’re sure to invade his life and harass him all over again. Sir Hugo soberly warns Stoker that the press coverage will likely be as bad or worse this time around – especially since the last time Stoker was seen with de Morgan, he was beating him bloody on a public street while the man refused to defend himself. Veronica resolutely decides to find the missing man – never doubting, regardless of Sir Hugo’s revelations about their last meeting – Stoker’s innocence. Then or now.
While the missing man and the eponymous curse provide a clever and entertaining premise, they’re merely window dressing for Ms. Raybourn’s true purpose: revealing Stoker’s backstory and showcasing Veronica’s passionate defense of him. Haunted by his marriage to Caroline and damaged by the false accusations of brutality levelled at him, Stoker has only recently begun to live again. Despite Sir Hugo’s warnings, he refuses to cower or hide from the press and Veronica, his fiercest champion, senses how deeply affected Stoker is by proximity to Caroline and by John’s disappearance. She’s determined not only find the missing man, but to remind Stoker of his value and importance – and ensure he never forgets them again. Veronica’s emotional and revealing defense of her ‘friend’ is deeply moving and shows a side of her – sensitive, loyal, loving, devoted – we’ve only briefly glimpsed in earlier books.
From the very beginning, Veronica and Stoker have had great and intense chemistry, and their relationship – tender, passionate, stimulating – grounds the Veronica Speedwell novels. They’re marvelously compelling together. By the end of A Perilous Undertaking, their affection for each other is also apparent; when Stoker steps in to save Veronica’s life – hard on the heels of a confession about his origins and a much too brief aborted kiss – it seemed to indicate change was afoot. I was glad for it – and hopeful Ms. Raybourn would cease reminding us of Veronica’s tediously frequent – and odd – allusions to her sexual prowess. The relationship does change – although unfortunately, there’s very little romance in A Treacherous Curse. However, what Ms. Raybourn sacrifices in romance, she more than makes up for in the emotional intimacy that develops as Veronica learns Stoker’s secrets (nope, I’m not going to share them with you) and better understands the man she so admires. That Veronica loves Stoker is obvious – as is her confusion over those feelings. But Stoker remains an enigmatic and mysterious fellow, and despite learning the circumstances of his divorce from Caroline, it’s less clear what he wants from his relationship with Veronica – or even that he’s aware of her feelings for him. Ms. Raybourn has brilliantly (if painfully slowly) paced the evolution of this relationship – first Veronica’s secrets, then a strengthening of their ties to each other, then Stoker’s secrets, leading up to… well, we’ll just have to wait and see. And we will, dear reader. Because we love them too.
Meanwhile, and to the author’s credit, the mystery at the heart of A Treacherous Curse provides a compelling match-up to the revelation of Stoker’s darkest secrets. Together, Veronica and Stoker search for the missing diadem and de Morgan, unravel the curse, and identify who’s impersonating Anubis. It’s all very clever and entertaining (and I won’t reveal any of its secrets). There’s a collection of new and interesting (and suspicious) secondary characters – Caroline (she’s brilliantly awful), the Tivertons, J.J. Butterworth (a reporter who seems to have an inside track on the investigation), Inspector Mornaday – and all of them provide a nice diversion from the intensity of Stoker’s story and Veronica’s feelings. Ms. Raybourn hints at a favor owed to Stoker’s older brother – who also makes a much too brief, flirtatious appearance – and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in the next book. The final denouement is a bit of a shock (although the identity of the villain isn’t), and the ending very neatly dovetails the mystery of de Morgan’s whereabouts with the curse of Princess Ankeheset and the appearances of Anubis.
Reader, the Veronica Speedwell series is pretty darn great and I enjoyed A Treacherous Curse. But my recommendation still comes with a caveat. Addictive, smart and chock full of interesting primary and secondary characters – they’re wholly successful as a mystery series. But as romantic mystery novels? Well, they’re decidedly less so. I need more romance! I’m not quite ready for Stoker and Veronica to start confessing their love for each other, but I’m hopeful for – and I want – more.
Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, January 2018
Time and Setting: Victorian England
Heat Level: 0
Genre: Historical Mystery
As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.
But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . .