Friday, 28 June 2013

Belladonna by Fiona Paul

Belladonna is the second book in Fiona Paul's Secrets of the Eternal Rose series set in Renaissance Italy. I reviewed the first book, Venom, last year.
Cassandra Caravello is trying to forget Falco, the wild artist who ran off with her heart, as she grows closer to her strong, steady fiancé, Luca. But Luca seems to have his own secrets. When he′s arrested by soldiers in the middle of the night, Cass′s life is once again thrown into chaos. She must save Luca, and that means finding the Book of the Eternal Rose -- the only evidence that will prove he is innocent.

So begins her journey to Florence, a city haunted by whispers of corruption, secret soirées and clandestine meetings of the Order of the Eternal Rose. And home to Falco, who′s working for the Order′s eerily stunning leader, the Belladonna herself.

Can Cass trust her heart to lead her to the truth this time?
I enjoyed Belladonna much more than Venom. I think there are a few key reasons for this. Venom had Cass taking risks for Falco, the class-inappropriate artist who seduced her, and dwelling on him a lot more. In Belladonna, the love triangle between Falco - Cass - Luca is much less important. Cass does start out moping about Falco but as the story progresses and Luca's life is in danger she tends to spend more time worrying about actual important things. She still takes a lot of risks and doesn't seem to have much of a sense of self-preservation, but I'm willing to forgive this as there wouldn't be much story if she always chose to do the safe thing.

The story takes Cass to Florence as she seeks to absolve Luca and find out more about the mysterious Order of the Eternal Rose. I quite enjoyed what came of that storyline, particularly the mix of alchemy and pseudoscience the Order has been investigating. Although everything is mostly realistic, I think that aspect of the plot will appeal to spec fic fans more than the first book which did not have as many speculative elements. There are, for example, accusations of vampirism. And conspiracies. Gotta love a good conspiracy.

I found that, in Belladonna, Paul has come into her own with her writing style. I remember there were bits in Venom that I felt like skimming over, but this was not the case in Belladonna. In particular, the description was more smoothly integrated throughout. Maybe that's partly because a lot of the setting was set up in the first book. Either way, it was appreciated.

Overall I enjoyed this book. I suggest that if you weren't sure after reading Venom, give Belladonna a go. For new readers, I suggest starting with book one, although I don't think it's quite as necessary as with some series. I imagine if you don't there'll be some confusion but overall the book will still make sense. I recommend this series to lovers of historical YA and I expect readers of speculative YA will also enjoy it, so long as they don't object to a lack of magic.

4 / 5 stars

First published: July 2013, Harper Collins AU (and Penguin US with a much less pretty cover)
Series: The Secrets of the Eternal Rose book 2 of 3
Format read: paper ARC
Source: HC's lovely publicist


  1. Ah, YA. That would explain the standard prom gown on the cover of a novel set in the Renaissance! ;-)

    1. But at least it's a pretty non-period dress! ;-p

    2. We can only hope she doesn't have high heels under all that drapery - very hard to escape the villain! (g)

    3. The book itself is fairly accurate actually. She even wears chopines in Venice to not ruin her clothes with flood waters. (Not that they're the most useful for running away from things.)