Belladonna by Fiona Paul.
Secrets of the Eternal Rose #2.
Page Count: 352.
Published: July 16, 2013.
Published by: Philomel.
Source: Received an ARC from Razorbill Canada in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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.
My struggle here is trying to write a coherent and valid review when all I really want to do is melt into a puddle of swoon and emotions. Fiona Paul made me fall in love in Venom, but Belladonna is like the proposal and the wedding. Emotional, well thought out, and even stronger than what came before. Now I just hope Starling is like a long and happy marriage!
Belladonna is a fabulous second book for this trilogy. There is no sign of second-book-syndrome in sight! It is an excellent follow-up to the storyline of Venom, ensuring that what happened in the first carries through to the second. No dropped plot lines or big, important actions without consequences. It has action and mystery and feelings galore and proved to be everything I wanted and more.
Italy continues to shine as the setting of the trilogy and I loved seeing more of its beauty, this time in Florence. At the same time, though, Belladonna presents some of the creepy and dangerous underground that goes even further than in Venice in Venom. The change in atmosphere was immediate and strong upon Cass' approach to Florence and I thought it was excellent for the novel since Belladonna delves much deeper into the mystery of the Eternal Rose. It is honestly the perfect backdrop for a storyline that combines the beautiful with the creepy and off-putting.
Cass dives much deeper into the overarching mystery in Belladonna and I was very impressed with how it's playing out. I really feel like I'm being kept in the dark about a lot of the details, but only as much as Cass is so it's exciting instead of frustrating. We're introduced to many new pieces of the puzzle this time around and I want to know how they fit together! The beautiful Belladonna and the obsession in Florence with vampires were both intriguing aspects of the story that we get a taste of. Enough to whet your appetite and get you hooked, but not enough to reveal all the answers (no matter how much I wanted them). I also have to commend Cass for her growth so far. She is really starting to come into her own and prove that despite having been sheltered and privileged, she is smart and can take care of herself. It was great to see her take charge of the situation and work tirelessly to save Luca when it put her in such danger. She can be selfless to the point of recklessness, but it just goes to show her heart, her curiosity, and her determination.
When it comes to the boys of the series, I felt so torn while reading. All throughout Venom I was a Falco girl through and through. Luca was far away and didn't even matter to me when Falco and Cass were together. In Belladonna, though, it gets complicated. Falco and Cass get more swoons, which I absolutely loved, but Falco is really showing his not-boyfriend-material side while Luca, despite once again not being present for much of the book, has shown that he is so strong and reliable and loving and clearly the smart choice. This was so hard on me (in the best way possible, I mean), because there are two swoony Italian guys and my heart says Falco while my head says Luca and I just want them both. As for Cass and the boys, I was so glad to get more insight into why she feels so conflicted about them because not only did it help me become more conflicted (THANKS, Cass), but it also helped me understand where Cass is coming from in regards to them. I think she and I feel the same way about the boys: Luca is the smart choice who will love her and take care of her forever, and what girl doesn't want that? But Falco is the mysterious and alluring one who gets your heart pounding and turns your cheeks bright red. It's hard to choose between them, and I understand Cass' struggle so much more after Belladonna.
Belladonna not only has the excellent love interests down pat, but has upped the ante on the mystery, the stakes and the emotions. Paul has shown that she's not afraid to take some risks to make these books the best they can be and I think that's truly paying off.
A glowing 5 stars!