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School Library Journal04/01/2014
Gr 9 Up—Cass and Luca are back in Venice, this time to find the Book of the Eternal Rose—before the Order finds them.
This historical romantic thriller is perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, Anna Godberson's The Luxe, and Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty and The Diviners.
When the last drop of light drained from the sky, Cass and Luca crept out of the shed where they had been hiding. Cass took a moment to stretch, her muscles grateful to be free of the cramped enclosure. After Luca had torn open his shoulder escaping from the Doge’s dungeons, the wound had festered, leaving him feverish and incapacitated for nearly a week. Cass knew each day that passed meant fewer people would be searching for them, but the waiting had been agony. She was desperate to resume her quest to destroy the Order of the Eternal Rose.
There was only one way to do that—find the Book of the Eternal Rose and pray it contained enough evidence of wrongdoing to bring the Order’s members to justice. Hatred coiled inside of Cass like a tangle of serpents. She embraced it, channeled it toward the task at hand. “The shore is this way,” she said.
Luca squeezed her fingers as they turned off the path, and she relaxed slightly. The whispering tide ebbed and flowed just out of sight. The wind was warm but brisk, whipping the fabric of her dress up around her legs. Luca walked stiffly, his injured arm cradled against his torso. They traveled east along the water until Cass found what she was looking for—an old batèla tied to a wooden dock. She glanced around. A handful of cottages—all dark—stood nearby. The boat might belong to any of them.
Walking boldly out onto the dock, Cass knelt down and loosened the rope that moored the small rowboat. “Get in,” she told Luca.
He paused. “Is there no other way than to steal from peasants?”
“Our alleged crimes have gone beyond mere theft,” Cass said. She didn’t remind him that they were heading to Villa Querini so they could steal from her beloved aunt. There was no other way. Cass and Luca would need money to return to Florence and seek out the book. It was safer for Agnese if she believed they were dead. “Besides, someone will probably find the craft and return it.” Nimbly, Cass’s fingers worked through the knots while Luca watched with a mixture of surprise and admiration.
“I had no idea your talents were so . . . varied,” he said.
Cass smiled. It felt like the first smile in days. “Wait until you see me row.”
And row she did. Wood ground against metal as she pulled the oars, leaning into each stroke, her muscles burning in protest as the boat moved slowly and steadily through the lagoon. She scanned the water as she rowed, looking for other craft, for boats that held soldiers, for anything out of the ordinary. But the night was a curtain of blackness, with nothing but a hazy moon to guide her. If they suddenly came upon another boat, there very well might be a crash.
Luca took in each of her movements, the expression on his face suddenly making Cass feel shy.
“What?” she asked. She looked down at the water, her eyes tracing the path of the wooden oar as it cut through the lagoon, before letting her gaze return to her fiancé. He was still watching her. “You’re staring.”
“I was thinking that each time I feel I know you, you surprise me again.” His voice was low but full of warmth, like if he were feeling a bit stronger, he might lean over and kiss her.
Cass fumbled one of the oars at that thought. As she reached out to retrieve it, she remembered a trip in a batèla she’d made with Falco. It was the night they had found the body of Sophia, Joseph Dubois’s former servant. Cass’s cheeks grew hot as she thought of Falco tugging at fabric and undoing laces, at the two of them tangled together beneath a blanket as their mouths tasted each other. Idiota, she cursed herself. She was certainly full of surprises. Unfortunately, not all of them would make Luca look at her with such tenderness.
“You’re starting to get winded. You should let me take a turn,” he said.
Cass shook her head. She’d force herself to row until her back was breaking and her hands were bleeding before she did that. Luca would reinjure his shoulder if he tried, and besides, she deserved to suffer. She had dishonored him with Falco. She had put her handmaid in harm’s way, and Siena had died. Cass didn’t know if she would ever forgive herself.
She followed the southern coastline of the Giudecca around to the east and then turned south before reaching San Giorgio Maggiore. The shore of San Domenico appeared out of the mist, its tall grass blowing back and forth as if beckoning to her. Cass navigated the boat past an open field and around to Agnese’s dock. She looped a coil of rope around one of the mooring posts. Tying what she hoped was a secure knot, Cass rose slowly to her feet in the wobbling craft.
Luca took her arm and steadied her as she alighted from the boat. She turned to give him her hand as he stepped from the batèla after her.
They stood at the edge of the dock, uncertain, a pair of silhouettes backlit by the moon. Cass couldn’t believe she was home again. It had been only a week, but the place felt alien to her. Patches of the normally neatly manicured lawn were unkempt, the shrubbery that framed the front of the villa beginning to overtake the grass. Her knees went a bit quivery, and her heart rose into her throat. Giuseppe had never neglected his gardening duties. What did it mean?
“Cass? What is it?” Luca asked.
Rather than explain why the unruly hedges seemed a harbinger of bad tidings, Cass stepped from the dock onto the lawn. Luca was close behind her. As she neared the front door, she could see the draperies of black fabric that covered the door and all of the windows.
Draperies that meant someone was dead.
A shudder moved through Cass. She reached out for the carved molding around the door to steady herself, trying to deny to her brain what her heart was screaming. Her aunt was fine—she had to be. For all Cass knew, the swatches of fabric might be for her. Perhaps after failing to locate them, the Senate had declared Cass and Luca dead. Agnese could have hung the ceremonial draperies to honor Cass, despite having no body to bury.
Luca rested a hand on her back. His touch gave her the strength to move forward, but the front door was locked, the villa completely quiet. Cass didn’t know what she’d been expecting. It was late—of course the place would be secure. She wondered who might answer the door if she knocked. Bortolo, the butler, had been Agnese’s servant for more than twenty years, but age had taken its toll and Cass had no doubt he was dozing somewhere. Agnese’s handmaid, Narissa, might still be lurking about, mending chemises by candlelight.
But Cass couldn’t knock. Even though she thought of the servants as family, she and Luca were criminals, with large bounties on their heads. She had to assume that anyone would turn them in for a life-changing amount of gold. Men had betrayed their real families for much less.
Instead, Cass led Luca around to the back of the villa, to the garden, where she was dismayed to find that Agnese’s rosebushes looked as if they hadn’t seen water in days. The stems were gnarled and twisted, like witches’ fingers; the blooms hung low. Even the marigolds had withered, their petals littering the dirt like a field of golden teardrops.
Luckily, the servants’ door was unlocked, and Cass and Luca slipped quietly into the kitchen. And then she knew for certain. It wasn’t merely the faint smell of decay, masked by rosewater and the tinge of something medicinal. It was a feeling that overwhelmed her the instant she set foot inside the villa. A feeling of emptiness.
A feeling of death.
Posted March 21, 2014
***Review to be posted on July 25, 2013 at The Eater of Books! blog***
Starling by Fiona Paul
Book Three of the Secrets of the Eternal Rose series
Publication Date: March 20, 2014
Rating: 5 stars
Source: ARC sent by the author
Summary (from Goodreads):
What I Liked:
SPOILER FREE REVIEW! Unless you haven't read Venom. But if you have read both Venom and Belladonna, there are zero spoilers in this review!
Also, I feel like I'm not going to do this book justice with my review.
I don't even know where to start with this book. For me, this series has come a long way. Way back when, I read Venom, and didn't really like, a little more than a month ago, I read Belladonna, and enjoyed it! I was so happy to see several key changes in the series. Three weeks ago, I was sent this novel as a "delta" reader (I rather like that title!), and here we are. Conclusion novels are always difficult for me to review, because I hate seeing a series end, especially the ones that I enjoyed. I also feel the need to compare and review the entire series, in the review for the last book. Which doesn't make much sense. But anyway. I may have disliked Venom, but as I have completed the series, I have come to realize that this YA historical fiction series is one of my favorites.
I have a feeling I'm going to ramble in this review, so I'm going to narrow down what I liked into specific sections. I am so happy to finally *really* understand everything behind the Secrets of the Eternal Rose. Finding this book and clearing Luca's name seems to be the primary objective in the story. The plot might seem straightforward, but I love the twists and turns that Ms. Paul includes that make the story that much more interesting. While I didn't see character development in Venom, I could clearly see the depth of some characters' growth by the end of this book. And the romance - everyone wants to know how it ends. It ends... well. As does the entire series.
I am so happy that the Secrets of the Eternal Rose and the Book and that whole mystery is puzzled out! The series is set around finding the book, so obviously, a resolution of some sort would have been in order, but I'm just really happy that after being disappointed with its lack of mention in Venom, that everything about the Order is resolved in a way.
The plot was probably anything but straightforward. The book picks up where Belladonna left off - with Luca and Cass on the run. They go to Cass's villa, and after that, things get complicated. I'm not going to spoil anything, Ms. Paul kept the pace of the book moving, page after page. It seemed like Cass did not stay in one place for very long. Finding the Book, sneaking into rooms, escaping from places... there was no shortage of action and conflict in this novel. I love this aspect of the book, because this is a huge change from Venom, and (sort of) Belladonna. I found Venom very slow in pace, and Belladonna faster, but Starling kept going. You couldn't stop and absorb for a second!
NOT that that's a bad thing at all! I was pleased by how many situations and conflicts Ms. Paul put in Starling. It's not a confusing book (I promise!), nor is it hard to keep track and remember what happened in the past. That is another excellent thing I found - Ms. Paul has the ability to successfully bring readers back the overall story and the immediate story, without confusing readers or making readers feel like they've forgotten everything and must re-read the previous books.
Not that re-reading the previous books is a bad idea ;)
This is sort of a comparison from the beginning of the series (Venom) to the end of the series (Starling), but I'm very pleased by the evidence of character development in Cass. I feel like the rest of the characters stayed pretty static throughout the series, but Cass definitely changed - and for the better. I complained in my review of Venom how I thought that Cass was an ehhh character, with no development from the beginning of Venom to the end. But as I have finished the series, I can see how she has changed. While I still think her entire being is anachronistic, I love how Cass stands for herself and fights for what she wants, rather than follow someone and wait for things to come to her.
Ms. Paul puts Cass in very difficult and tricky situations, and I like how Cass deals with being placed in those situations. I finally really like Cass in this book, because I think she fights for herself, for reasons that she wants, and not for what she thinks others would want from her. Also, the courtesan thing? SO amusing! I admire Cass's gall to be around the courtesans. And they're pretty cool! The courtesans play a huge and important role in Starling. You'll see what I mean, and I hope you agree with me!
Okay... I've reached the point I'm sure most people care about the most: the romance. While I will NOT insinuate which young man is the lucky one, I will say that regardless of which one you like, I think readers will love the ending of the Starling, in terms of the romance. Forget "Team Luca" and "Team Falco" for a second. Think about Cass, her personality, who she is, what she stands for, and what she knows that SHE wants and needs. The young man she chose... well, she chose him for him, and for her. I know that probably doesn't make much sense, but if you're an astute reader, you'll know without having to know which young man she chooses.
Of course, I know some readers are going to disappointed, because Cass can't have it both ways! But again - regardless of what "team" you are on, I think you will be satisfied with the ending, in terms of romance. AND in terms of everything else!
So, I got the opportunity to read this book in early July as a "delta reader", to read through for historical inaccuracies (anachronisms) and such. One of the things that really bugged me in Venom was the presence of obvious anachronisms in the book. BUT, I have to say, I've read Starling several times now, and I am really happy with Ms. Paul's depth of research and the amount of time and effort she put into painstakingly making sure that she caught as many anachronisms as possible. I know I'm a crazy historical fiction fan and reader, and I look sometimes too deeply into stories, but I am proud of Ms. Paul because I barely found any at all (no obvious ones whatsoever!) in Starling.
And hey - one last point. THE COVER IS PURPLE! Purple is my favorite color! So, um, well, yeah. I'm glad they made this one purple, because it makes it extra special, since it's my favorite of the series.
If you've reached this point and you're reading this sentence and you're STILL not convinced that you should pick up this book and/or series, then I shall say: GO READ IT ANYWAY! Buy the books, borrow them from the library, borrow them from a friend... just go read them.
What I Did Not Like:
I have nothing to say in this section. I'm not saying this book is perfect, but... no comments on dislikes!
Would I Recommend It:
YES! And people - this is coming from the world's pickiest reader that didn't exactly enjoy the first book. I did like the second book though. If you were like me - you didn't enjoy Venom, keep reading! It gets better. And then even better. Just trust me!
5 stars - because 4 stars just wasn't enough. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to read this book so early! Thank you, Ms. Paul!