Belladonna (Secrets of the Eternal Rose Series #2)by Fiona Paul
In Renaissance Italy, love, lust, intrigue and secret societies converge to stunning results!
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/b>
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In Renaissance Italy, love, lust, intrigue and secret societies converge to stunning results!
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.
Another sensual edge-of-your-seat romance thriller that's just as alluring Venom. This historical romantic mystery is perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, Anna Godbersen's The Luxe, Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty and Cecily Von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl.
Praise for VENOM
"Deftly balancing beauty and death, Venom renders the canals of renaissance Venice frightening and irresistible in a sensual tale where no one can be trusted and passions kill." Andrea Cremer, New York Times bestselling author of the Nightshade series
Read an Excerpt
A Secrets of the Eternal Rose Novel
An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
“Fire is power. Blood is life.”
—the book of the eternal rose
Cass leaned over the side of the Rialto Bridge, the wind lifting her auburn hair away from her face. Wispy clouds swirled low in the sky.
“Cass.” The word fluttered on the breeze.
She turned. Falco stood at her side, his square jaw backlit by the sun, his mouth curving into the lopsided smile she loved. “I thought you . . . ?” Cass couldn’t finish. Left. He had left her, weeks ago.
“I came back for you,” he said.
He stroked her face with his hands, one fingertip tracing the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. She wobbled in her chopines and he reached out to steady her, his hand lingering on her arm. The platform overshoes made her taller than Falco, but he didn’t seem to notice. Tilting his head toward her, he pulled her body in close to his.
Cass trembled as he closed the gap between them. Their lips met. Hungry. Wanting. Falco’s hands wrapped around her waist, caressing her through the layered fabric of her dress. Her body went weak, and she gripped the stone railing of the bridge to keep from pitching over into the water. Her other hand found his hair. She twisted it around her fingers.
“Come with me,” he whispered.
Cass didn’t even ask where they were going. Falco took her hand and pulled her across the bridge, through the streets. Light became gray. Day became night. His grip tightened around her fingers. Too tight. Cass looked up at him. She gasped. He was falling away in pieces. His hair. His smile. His skin peeling back to reveal teeth and bone.
The street dissolved, and Cass wasn’t outside anymore. Dark hallways threaded out in all directions, weblike and impossibly long. She clawed at the damp walls, and the stone chipped away beneath her fingernails, leaving long gouges in the rock. She was being dragged forward, through an arched door. A lantern flickered to life. They were in the wine room. Cass and the man of bone.
Only now he wore a new face: Cristian, her fiancé Luca’s half brother. Cristian, the murderer. He started shouting at her, horrible black things about the women he had killed.
A droplet of water fell from above. Cass lay pinned to a low stone table. And Cristian was on top of her, his weight crushing her chest, an icy blade pressed against her throat. She felt death in that pinch of steel, but she was more afraid of the hand that wasn’t holding the dagger. The hand that was busy tearing away the fabric of her dress . . .
Cass sat up in bed, her heart banging in her chest, her eyes still shut against the monster from her nightmare. The fabric of her nightgown clung to her moist skin.
“Not real,” she murmured. She had the dream every couple of nights. Each time it was a little different, but it always ended the same way.
She opened her eyes. The candle on her washing table had burned down to its nub. Burning tallow all night was expensive, and dangerous, but Cass couldn’t bear the dark. Not since Cristian had attacked her. A thin shaft of silvery dawn sliced its way through a crack in her shutters. It was morning, and she was all right. Another night survived.
She tried to put the nightmare out of her mind. She hadn’t told anyone exactly what had happened to her the day of Madalena’s wedding. Even Luca didn’t know that his half brother had more than murder on his mind when he lured Cass down into the wine room.
Her insides twisted, like she was a sheet being wrung out to dry. Bile rose in her throat. Resting her head back on her pillow, Cass willed herself to be calm. Inhale. Exhale. Just breathe.
Something rough scratched against her cheek. A rolled parchment lay in her tangled bedsheets. The edges were crumbling and the ink was fading in places. It was Falco’s letter, the only one she had received since he left Venice. Cass had been reading it last night before she fell asleep. She’d read it a hundred times, knew each word by heart, but she unrolled it again anyway. The words were sweet and soothing. Even in his absence, Falco could make the nightmare fade.
I haven’t stopped thinking of you—I can’t. I know that you are engaged and want to do right by your family, but you and I belong together. Call it fate if you like. I prefer to think of it as the natural order of things. Just as mixing ochre and sapphire produces the most vibrant green, you and I, when combined, become more alive.
I’ve stopped doing business with de Gradi. I’ve left that life behind. I’m working as an artist-in-residence for a wealthy patron now. The work she has me do is a bit pedestrian, but perhaps it will lead to bigger projects. I meant what I said. One day I will paint whole chapels for you. I spend every waking minute becoming a better artist, a better man. One day I will offer you the life you deserve, the life we both desire.
One day I’ll be good enough, or I’ll die trying . . .
Cass glanced at the portrait of the Virgin Mary above her dressing table. She should have lowered the black veil attached to the frame before reviewing her love letter. It wasn’t proper to let the Virgin see her swooning over a man who was not her fiancé.
But she could ask for forgiveness later. Cradling the parchment against her chest, she thought about the last time she’d seen Falco. She had been strolling the streets of San Domenico with Luca when she saw Falco flagging down a fisherman for passage. Cass knew he was going away, but she didn’t know where. Part of her had wanted to drop her fiancé’s hand and run to Falco’s side, to escape the tiny island with him.
But she had stayed put, her arm entwined with Luca’s, watching Falco’s back fade into the setting sun. Following him would have meant abandoning her aunt Agnese and dishonoring the memory of her parents, and Cass just couldn’t do it. Besides, she wasn’t completely convinced she could trust Falco. Their whole relationship was based on secrets and lies. Even if Falco had stopped stealing dead bodies and selling them to Angelo de Gradi, did that mean he wouldn’t turn to crime again the next time he needed more than his art could provide? She didn’t know.
But she did know Luca might never be enough for her. Cass’s heart fluttered in her chest. She felt Falco’s lips on hers as if he were there in the room. She remembered their first kiss, in the studio where he apprenticed, the way she felt as if she had lived her whole life inside a frozen shell, melting for the first time at his touch.
She sighed. Luca had been so patient with her the past few weeks, content to enjoy her company at mealtimes and during an occasional stroll along the beach. Just last week he had given her a gift, a gorgeous lily pendant. Cass felt its pressure in the hollow of her throat, the lily’s diamond center moving in and out with each of her breaths. Luca would make the perfect husband. He was handsome and kind and smart, a good man, from a well-established Venetian family. And he loved her. He loved her so much, he would die for her; he had proven that already. But Falco was . . . Falco. Just the taste of his name on her lips made Cass a little dizzy.
Her situation was hopeless: betrothed to one man, wildly in love with another.
Heavy footsteps outside her room shattered the reverie. Quickly, Cass slipped the letter under her pillow. She tucked an unruly shock of hair back under her sleeping cap as she hurried to her armoire and grabbed a dressing gown from inside. Securing the belt around her waist, she opened her chamber door a crack and peeked out into the hallway. It was dark, but the corridor was full of strange men dressed in scarlet and gold. Men with swords and clubs tucked into leather sheaths.
“What’s going on here?” Cass asked.
The soldiers turned as one, quickly averting their eyes at her state of undress. “We’ve orders to search Signor da Peraga’s chambers,” one of them said stiffly. He wore a gold medallion pinned to his doublet. Cass assumed he was the man in charge.
“Search his chambers?” she repeated, incredulous. “For what?”
“Best you step aside, Signorina.” The soldier waved her out of the way with one of his filthy leather gloves. “These orders come straight from the Senate.”
Cass’s handmaid, Siena, appeared at her side, dressed but still half drunk with sleep, her blonde hair stuffed loosely under her bonnet. “Signorina Cass,” she whispered. “What’s happening?”
“I don’t know.” Cass followed the soldiers to the room where Luca had been staying. Siena trailed behind her. The two girls stood in the doorway as the men converged upon the bed, tearing the pillows and sheets from it and tossing them to the floor. Finding nothing of interest in the linens, they moved to the worn leather trunk that sat against the wall. Horrified, Cass watched as one of the soldiers flung armfuls of books and clothing over his shoulder.
“Where is Luca?” she asked, her voice rising in pitch. “You’ve no right to go through his belongings without him present.”
“I suggest you go speak to Signor da Peraga yourself,” the nearest soldier said. “He’s in the portego with the rest of the brigade.”
Rest of the brigade? Pulling Siena behind her, Cass stormed down the hallway and pushed into the main room of the villa. The shutters were still closed, but the cavernous portego was aglow with torchlight. Agnese’s harp, and the angel statues that stood on either side of it, were casting deformed, wavering shadows across the marble floor. Luca stood near a velvet divan talking to another group of soldiers. Cass counted seven of them. They smelled of sweat and ale and ashes. Scarlet and gold blurred before her eyes as the soldiers circled her fiancé, like lions preparing to pounce.
“Luca! What’s happening?” She pushed her way through the sea of red to Luca’s side, her forward momentum almost throwing her into his arms. It had been awhile since she had been this close to him, close enough to see how his brown eyes faded to honey at the edges, close enough to smell a hint of cinnamon on his clothing.
“I’m being arrested,” he said calmly.
Cass felt as though the ground had opened beneath her feet. “On what charges? Under whose authority?” For a moment, she pressed her face against his broad chest, hiding her skin from the dancing flames of the nearest soldier’s torch. The silk of Luca’s doublet felt cool against her scorched cheek.
“What is the meaning of all this?”
Cass pulled away at the sound of Narissa’s shrill voice. Narissa was Agnese’s personal handmaid and the unofficial second-in-command of the villa. The stout, gray-haired woman surveyed the scene with a mix of shock and anger.
A crowd was beginning to gather at the edge of the portego. Siena stood just inside the doorway, her body leaning heavily against the wall as if she might collapse at any moment. She gestured wildly as she murmured to Narissa, but Cass couldn’t make out what the women were saying. She felt as though she hadn’t yet woken from her dream. Everything was strange and disjointed. Bortolo, Agnese’s elderly blind butler, stood behind the handmaids, his grizzled face twisted in confusion. In the other doorway, a trio of serving girls huddled silently together, taking in the scene with wide, frightened eyes.
A large thud made Cass jump. It sounded as if the soldiers were hacking Luca’s belongings to pieces with their clubs. With all the noise, Agnese was almost certainly awake now. Cass knew she should go to her aunt’s bedside, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave Luca.
As Cass watched, Narissa broke away from Siena and strode purposefully toward Luca’s chambers, undoubtedly to make sure the soldiers weren’t stealing anything or destroying the furniture. Cass knew Agnese would be hobbling her way into the chaos the instant she heard of the transpiring events. Ideally Narissa could control the soldiers and her aunt, who was too weak to deal with something like this. Agnese’s latest bout with imbalanced humors had required a large bloodletting, and the doctor had recommended bed rest for a few days.
“On what charges do you arrest my fiancé?” Cass asked again, directing her words to the group. When no one answered, she focused on the nearest soldier. His beard was flecked with gray, and several medallions glimmered on the breast of his doublet. Perhaps he, not the man leading the ransackers, was the leader. “You. Answer me.” The soldier looked pityingly at Cass but said nothing.
Cass turned to Luca. “This is madness!”
“They can’t tell us the charges.” Luca pressed his hands to Cass’s shoulders, steadying her. “They probably don’t even know. They’re just following orders.” He touched his lips to her cheek, then angled his mouth toward her ear. “Be strong,” he murmured. “And stay away from Signor Dubois.”
“Does he have something to do with this?” Cass knew that Luca had been to see Joseph Dubois only yesterday, and every shady dealing in Venice seemed to lead back to the Frenchman. A few weeks ago, he’d ordered Luca’s half brother, Cristian, to “dispose” of a maid from his estate. The girl’s mutilated body had surfaced in the Grand Canal, and now Siena’s sister, Feliciana, another servant at Palazzo Dubois, was missing. Cass prayed to Saint Anthony every night for Feliciana’s safe return, but privately she feared the worst.
Luca didn’t respond. The remaining soldiers filed into the portego, having apparently completed their search. Between the two groups there must have been close to twenty men. Did the Senate really think it would take so many soldiers to subdue a single man?
“Did you find anything?” The soldier with the graying beard lifted his torch so that the faces of his companions were illuminated.
“Nothing,” one of the soldiers barked in reply.
The brigade surrounded Luca and Cass, separating them from the rest of the household. The heat from their torches made the room go blurry. Cass blinked hard, but golden spots floated in the air, melding with the ocean of scarlet fabric, reflecting off medallions and sword hilts. She braced herself with one hand against Luca, trying to keep her knees from folding beneath her.
“Signor da Peraga must come with us now,” a soldier said. He detached a coil of rope from his belt and looped it around Luca’s wrists, cinching his hands behind his back.
“No!” Cass threw her hands around Luca’s neck, pulling him close. She fought back a sob, but a tear escaped, trickling down her cheek before she could brush it away.
“Everything is going to be fine, Cass,” Luca said. He leaned down to brush his lips against the tear. “Don’t cry.”
One of the men took Cass by the shoulders and wrenched her away. She stumbled backward, unmoored. Siena materialized at her side, reaching out, helping her regain her balance. The soldiers engulfed Luca and dragged him toward the stairs.
The front door of the villa slammed, and Cass ran to the window. The sky had gone from silver to blue. The soldiers doused their torches in the water as they forced Luca aboard the sturdy wooden ship. White sails snapped in the breeze as the boat pulled away from the dock. The waxing daylight wasn’t enough to see clearly by, but Cass swore Luca turned to look back at her as the ship bobbed out of sight. She touched one hand to the window, her breath condensing on the glass.
Luca was gone.
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Meet the Author
Fiona Paul is a writer, wanderer, and free spirit, with degrees in psychology and secondary education. She’s traveled all over the world, and many of the scenes in Venom and Belladonna were inspired by real-life experiences (though she won’t tell you which ones). She now makes her home in St. Louis, Missouri. Her future goals include diving with great white sharks and writing more books, but not necessarily in that order. You can visit Fiona Paul at www.fionapaulbooks.com and read her blog at fionapaulbooks.blogspot.com.
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Ratings: 3 Stars I guess I was expecting something more from the second book. To be honest, I really did enjoy the first book immensely. I felt as though Fiona Paul really got the feel of the setting as well as the characters down perfectly. But, mainly, I loved how her book didn’t jump on the paranormal bandwagon. I jumped the gun on thinking that… The book starts off with Cass’ husband, Luca, being arrested by soldiers at night. Right away the stakes are high: Luca is being arrested of treason and there is nothing she can do except to find the book that will implicate the person who accused him of treason (but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Luca is innocent). Cass manages to convince her aunt into letting her go to Florence where she investigates the mysterious Eternal Rose society. To be honest, this book had some awesome plot devices that they could have used to make the series even better: vampirism that wasn’t really vampirism, a secret society originally intended for the advance of medical studies that morphed into a foolish search for the fountain of youth, and much higher stakes than the first book. Unfortunately, they weren’t utilized to the best of their abilities. The book starts off really slow… like snail-slow. I thought it took Cass forever to reach Florence and even in Florence there was no tension nor the sense of urgency one would expect from a girl whose fiance was awaiting a death sentence. Even at the end (when Cass is rescuing Luca), the TENSION WASN’T UTILIZED TO ITS FULLEST. My heart was not thumping when I was reading it at all… Even in the middle, Cass was bedridden for the majority of it which left most of the heart-wrenching, night-exploring adventures to her boytoy and her maid. The reason why I knocked off two stars is this: I did not like the paranormal direction this book went on. The society forsaking its medical roots in search for the elixir of youth? Awesome! Almost some of the darkest “satanical” groups started off wanting to increase scientific and medical knowledge despite the church’s hindrance. But, them actually managing to isolate the “fifth humor” (which, by the way, is medical nonsense since the “humors” don’t really exist) was just plain lazy. In Venom, it seemed as though the book would be as historically accurate as they could possibly make it… but that accuracy completely flies out the window with the “fifth humor” nonsense. And also… upping the stakes by adding in a paranormal aspect to it? Really? You really don’t think a 40ish woman (which by the way is considered to be grandma status.. or nearing grandma status.. back in the Renaissance) who only looks a couple of years older than a teenager won’t get any accusations of witchcraft? Especially after this same woman manages to “wake up from the dead”? There are soooo many different angles that they could have went with this. Belladonna could have thought the fifth humor from Cass (I’m assuming it is Cass otherwise there won’t be a third book) worked a la Elizabeth Bathory which would have made her an even bigger threat because of her mental issues. The evil dude from the first book who ended up in Florence (I forgot his name…) could have seen Cass near the ending and might have wanted to do something before she could ruin his reputation. They could have flipped the table on her and accused her of being a vampire. Etc. Etc. Oh wells.. enough ranting about what I didn’t like and time to focus on what I did like: I love the romance thread in this book.. or, rather, the lack of it. The readers are able to clearly distinguish the difference between the two love interests in this book. Falco = physical and Luca = intellectual. Cass goes on her journey and its the thought of Luca that keeps her going despite the physical temptation from Falco. Best of all, I thought Fiona managed to illustrate the feelings of jealousy and doubt regarding Cass’ emotion towards Falco perfectly! I loved how the doctor used syringes to draw blood to make it look like a vampire attack. I loved how the doctor gave medicine to create the delusions and the feelings associated with a vampire attack. And I loved how it was Belladonna who employed Falco and how Cass, and the readers, wasn’t sure of Falco’s true feelings in this book. All in all, I’m waiting on the third book to see how this series wrap up.
4.5 stars Belladonna brings us a Cass who is much stronger, but still delightfully obstinate. The major difference between Belladonna and Venom is the setting [Florence instead of Venice]. It didn't seem to be the lush setting of Venom. However, Fiona didn't disappoint with the second book. She brought a new group of characters with actions that were all suspect [I don't believe anything anyone says!], a lot of mystery and some twists that kept me guessing. I cannot wait to see what the final book brings.(
**4.5 Stars** I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest review as part of a blog tour. Belladonna is just as good, maybe even better, than Venom. I love how the mystery continues, and we get to see another part of Italy. I really wish we could have seen a little more of Luca before he gets arrested (not giving anything away, this is part of the blurb). Of course, Cass has to run into Falco. The book wouldn’t be complete if he didn’t show up. I can officially say that I am on team Luca. I did not like Falco in this book, and hope he doesn’t get Cass in the end. Belladonna herself is sooo creepily beautiful! I love all the imagery the author used when describing both Bella and her estate. Again, Fiona Paul has created a picture perfect setting that you can see perfectly. I will tell you this, I actually had to put the book down towards the end because I couldn’t see through my tears. I was crying so hard, it was horrible. But, I am ok now and anxiously awaiting Starling to be released.
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** Belladonna by Fiona Paul Book Two of the Secrets of the Eternal Rose series Publisher: Philomel Publication Date: July 16, 2013 Rating: 4 stars Source: ARC sent by Paper Lit Lantern Summary (from Goodreads): 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. What I Liked: You all know I didn't like Venom as much as I'd hoped. I gave it three stars - but at the time, I wasn't sure if the rating was truly representative of how I felt. I absolutely LOVE historical fiction - it's my second favorite genre - and I love history. So, it sort of hurt to be disappointed by a much anticipated historical fiction novel. Nevertheless, I found Belladonna much more to my liking. Not only was Belladonna better in comparison to Venom, but it was just an all-around good book! I really enjoyed it! Especially, now that I've let it sit for a few days after reading it, I truly appreciate how much I liked it! Let me start by noting the things that I liked in Belladonna that I didn't like in Venom. In my review of Venom, I said that I didn't really liked Falco, and the entire love triangle business. I still don't like Falco or the presence of the love triangle. BUT, Ms. Paul did something excellent in Belladonna that made me appreciate the love triangle and Falco's role a little more: she spun this book to have Cass less concentrated on Falco, and more concentrated on Luca. Falco is still highly present in this novel, especially in the second half of the book, and Cass's "feelings" (read my review of Venom if you want to know why I have "feelings" in quotation marks) for him are still there. But, as readers, we get to explore Cass's feelings towards Luca. I find this necessary, because a true, powerful love triangle would not just have the strong presence of one boy (typically, the hot, lust-filled, forbidden one) and the sometime-ish presence of another boy (typically, also hot, but more thought-filled). Ms. Paul let Cass (and readers) fall for Falco in Venom (except me, apparently). In Belladonna, we get to at least understand Luca's role in Cass's life. And just for the record - all of that wasn't really a spoiler, because Luca isn't physically present for the majority of the book. That's another brilliant thing that Ms. Paul did: while Cass's relationship with Falco is very physical, her relationship with Luca is more intellectual or emotional (and less physical, since they don't interact much). Brilliant! Like I said in my review of Venom, I am on Luca's side. I still am. I still don't like Falco. I'm not insinuating anything - I'll leave it up to you to figure out the end of this book, in terms of the romance! Another thing I mentioned in my review of Venom was the lack of information on the Book of the Eternal Rose. In Belladonna, we get a lot more information about this, and the Order of the Eternal Rose. We get to see the purpose of it, and how it changes the entire series! I was particularly pleased to see this change - because I am disappointed when books based on a solid plot idea or completely overrun by the romance. The plot - I already said that I am happy to see that we get a bit of an explanation of the Order of the Eternal Rose. But one of the things I liked most about this book was the faster pace. The first... third of the book was a bit slow - but for good reason. But the rest of the book was page-turning! While I thought Venom dragged a bit, I finished Belladonna quickly. The faster, more interesting plot made this book much more enjoyable than Venom. And let me tell you, especially towards the end, things get INTERESTING. In a dark and creepy way. YEAH. Get ready to meet Belladonna, the person! That was... intriguing. And general things I found that I liked about Belladonna: I didn't find Cass as annoying as I did in Venom. She seemed more grounded and purposeful in Belladonna, and a little more intelligent in her decisions. She's still reckless and irrational sometimes, but I found that I understood her actions better, with her motives. There is no crazy cliffhanger at the end - no deaths or disappearances or things that make the reader scream, "THAT'S IT?!". Of course, there is a final book coming in March. But I'm just saying that by itself, this book wrapped up pretty well, in terms of the plot. PLOT. What I Did Not Like: Despite my immense relief of liking the second book even after I didn't like the first book, there are still some things that I didn't like. I've already said that I didn't like Falco. I just find him annoying. Especially in this book. I just don't see his appeal! I'll leave him to you Team Falco aficionados. There is still the presence of anachronisms in this book. The speech - so many contractions! I am so sure that people in Renaissance Italy didn't have contractions in their speech, like we do today. Another thing that bugged me was when the author would throw in a phrase or word in Italian. Technically, the characters are speaking Italian, because they are in Renaissance Italy. Obviously, we read it in English. So, it doesn't really make sense to add the Italian phrases, because it's redundant. On the other hand, I can see why the author did it. It adds authenticity to the setting, and culture to the characters. So, I'm not sure if I like this feature or not. It bugs me. But probably ONLY me. This isn't really an anachronism, but it's part of the speech of the time. Anyway. Another anachronism that I found was something that I had to look up to be sure. In Venom AND in Belladonna, readers are aware that Cass has the ability to read and write. She has a journal, she writes letters and messages to Falco, she reads letters from Luca. But, I am certain that MOST women - especially genteel women - did not know how to read or write during this time period. Men handled all affairs dealing with reading and writing. If a women needed a message delivered, she would dictate her message to a footman or messenger. Women of noble birth usually grew up without the simplest and most necessary skills; instead, they learned to sew and knit and play instruments and do other artistic things that gentlewomen did. Of course, this series is set during the Renaissance, and some high-class women (like, REALLY high-class - duke's wives, and whatnot) learned to read (and sometimes, write) during this time period. But the Renaissance wasn't the time where most women took it upon themselves to learn to read and write. I had to research that, and most of the reputable sources I found were in agreement about this area of women's lives. However, if you're reading this review and you find an authentic source of information that negates my argument, please bring it to my attention! I don't want to draw negative light to something that is actually correct. I know that all looks like a ton of "not liked" things, but I promise, they are little things that probably ONLY I would notice and not like. It's not that many! Would I Recommend It: I would definitely recommend it! I would tell you to read Venom just so you can read Belladonna... but many people were less critical of Venom than me. So, enjoy both, and join me in the wait for Starling! Rating: 4 stars. This book was much better than the first book - and I mean that in the best of ways! I'm pleased with this book and the direction that this series is going.
I had super high hopes for Belladonna by Fiona Paul and unfortunately I was just not able to lose myself in this book like I would have liked to. I love it when a book gets my heart racing and I am so excited to know what happens next that I have to actively stop myself from skipping pages and Belladonna did not do this for me and I am a little disappointed. Belladonna is the second book in The Secrets of the Eternal Rose series and maybe because I haven't read the first book, Venom, that's why I didn't enjoy this book as much as I was expecting. On Goodreads it has a great star rating! Sometimes I do read books outside of it sequence and then continue the series in order from there and I have no problems...I did just this recently and thoroughly enjoyed the book! However, with Belladonna I was lost and confused with the mentions of several characters or situations Cass found herself in and to be honest, this probably took some magic of the book away from me. Belladonna has some great pros though! Cass: she's very scared throughout her mission to Florence yet she shows incredible and awe striking bravery in the face of every danger she comes across! All to clear her fiance, Luca's, name and in doing so save his life! There is no shortage of mystery to this book and there is plenty of suspense as Cass and her handmaid, Siena, crash secret and forbidden parties, visit mysterious noblewomen, hide away escaped servants and attempt to free Luca! While I enjoyed Cass's character, my favorites were Siena and Luca, Cass's fiance. Siena is very loyal to Cass and Luca even while she has a secret love for Luca and never acts on it. Like Cass says "You can't help who you fall in love with". Luca is also just as loyal towards Cass. I feel he genuinely loves her and shows this by suggesting she go on with her life and accept that he is to be executed under false terms. He wishes her to be happy...even if it's not with him. That's love! I really did like Cass but while Cass is devoted to saving Luca, she partakes in some not-so-pure thoughts and actions with her true love, Falco. Falco I have mixed feelings for. I feel he is selfish and even though he may love Cass (because I am not so sure) he loves himself, money and ruffling some feathers more. Though, I think in the third book in the series, Starling, we are going to see his true intentions more clearly. I learned a little from Belladonna too! I learned what chopines were, they are cool...Google them! I also loved how Fiona Paul used some of the normal lingo for the time and place the book was set in! I love the Renaissance era! All in all I had "lukewarm" feelings while reading Belladonna but I only attribute this to a mistake I made...I should have read the first book first. Belladonna has all the makings of a great book...I was just too silly to have read the first book to better appreciate it. I would recommend this book to a friend but only if they read Venom first. Otherwise they may or may not have the same reaction as myself! I do look forward to reading Starling and before I do, I am going to read Venom first...to catch myself up!