ARC Review: “Belladonna” by Fiona Paul

BelladonnaBelladonna (Secrets of the Eternal Rose #2) by Fiona Paul

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In the second in the stunning Secrets of the Eternal Rose series, 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’s innocent.

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

Can Cass trust her heart to lead her to the truth this time?
Nothing is as it seems in this seductive thriller, where the truth may be the deadliest poison of all.

Four and a half stars

Thanks to NetGalley and Philomel for this eARC! This title will be released July 16th.

WARNING: This review WILL contain spoilers for the first book, Venom. Read my review of that one HERE!

I don’t know what I was expecting when I started this book, but lemme give it to you straight: I was NOT expecting THAT.

The book starts off with a bang: Luca is arrested and sentenced to die without so much as a trial, because the charge is heresy and some powerful nobles have come forward to confirm the charge. Their testimony was bought and paid for, of course, but only Cass believes that—and only she can prove it. All Luca can tell her is that the answer lies with the Order of the Eternal Rose—and she must go to Florence to find it. This is the city that Falco ran off to at the end of Venom, but Cass realizes that she may need to leave her old love behind if she wants to save Luca. In Florence, the Church is regularly drowning victims of alleged vampire attacks, but Cass realizes quickly that all is not what it appears. Falco’s new patroness is hiding more than her true age behind looks too perfect to be true.

If you thought the stakes were high in Venom, you won’t believe their height in Belladonna.

I was excited to see this book take us out of Venice and into Florence, even if I thought that the main reason for this was for Cass to chase after Falco. It wasn’t, and this impressed me. Cass is better at keeping her head in the game than many of the ya heroines I’ve come across as of late, and it made me love her all the more.

But back to the setting. I thought that the location switch might require a bunch of new character development and scene setting that would set back the story, but this wasn’t true. Paul was extremely good at keeping a round of known characters as center points, and not letting any new characters take up too much time. The change in scenery was believable and didn’t cause a hiccup or drag down the plot at all.

That plot, by the way, stays FAST. I’ve seen some second books where the plot seems like filler before the finale, and this was NOT one of those. It stays fresh while keeping you invested and staying interesting. If I had to compare this with Venom, I would say that Belladonna is AT LEAST on par if not better than the first book. (I mean, I rated it a half star higher, so…) Not only was I engaged, but I was also thrown for a loop several times. I thought I had it all figured out, but I was wrong—and that doesn’t happen often. By the end of the book, I was audibly shouting HOW DID THAT JUST HAPPEN? The events of Starling—or at least the general outline of this—is the furthest thing from what I expected and now I’m not sure what’s going to happen to anyone anymore.

Most importantly, I love how the characters were handled in this book. Given the presence of the love triangle, I’m always on high alert for that whole thing to fall apart. Once again, I was impressed on how this was portrayed. Cass makes her decisions without the help of either of them—in fact, often in defiance of both of them. She accepts how she feels about both of them, but realizes that only one of them can be her future. (Vagueness intentional to keep from spoilering.) Given that Luca was locked up for all of this one, we barely get to see him at all, but—and this is a big “but” because I’m so Team Luca—the triangle stayed even and real. Falco may have been around, but Cass never let him let her forget what she was fighting for, and why she was fighting for it. (I still say that the title of the next book is a huge tell for who she ends up with, but I’m still extremely curious about how that’s going to all shake out because these relationships keep getting more and more complicated and not so easy to predict.)

All in all, I’m still a huge recommender of these books. The mystery is real and deep, the characters are well written and the emphasis is on the story/plot/mystery and NOT the love triangle and yet the love triangle still manages to compliment and complicate the plot, not ruin it for those of us (AKA me) who are tired of romance taking over. Anyways, go. Read. I’ll see you in Renaissance Italy.

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