Review of BELLADONNA by FIONA PAUL
(second in THE SECRETS OF THE ETERNAL ROSE trilogy, review based on an advance reading copy)
This series may not be great literature, but it’s absolutely top-notch fluff reading. I loved the first book and this second one sucked me in right away. I felt hooked all the way to the end and felt so invested in the story I found it hard keeping my “reviewer brain” on (In other words, making mental notes of pros and cons). When I read Paul’s books I forget about reviews and about time and simply enjoy myself.
As I mentioned in my review of VENOM, Paul mashes up genres for this series. I could categorize it as young adult, mystery, romance, suspense, etc. No doubt Paul’s willingness to break away from one genre’s traditional formulas contributes to my favorable impression of her books.
I always say there are two kinds of great writing: that which turns invisible and that which attracts admiration. Paul’s is the former. Her writing feels effortless, because I entirely forget I’m reading words and fall into her story.
In BELLADONNA, the book barely opens before Cass’s (parent selected) fiancé is falsely accused of heresy and condemned to execution. After her fling with the painter Falco in the last book Cass isn’t even sure she wants to marry Luca, but she at least cares about him and she most certainly doesn’t want him to die. She resolves to clear his name in the few weeks before his execution, a task that proves even more dangerous that she anticipated.
Sometimes I wanted Cass to be more resourceful and self-reliant. Other times she surprised and impressed me. In the end, I decided she’s real and believable. Sometimes she’s rescued and sometimes she does the rescuing. Sometimes she asks for help and sometimes she saves the day herself.
I rarely feel invested in love triangles, but I can mark this series down as an exception. In full honesty, I’ve been a Luca supporter the whole time. I do like Falco and understand why he appeals to Cass and see some ways in which he’s good for her, but ultimately think she would be happy with Luca and hope she comes to that realization herself. I strongly believe that a flame that burns steadily without ever dying beats one that flares up suddenly and snuffs out just as fast any day. Cass sees Luca as dull and predictable, but I view him as shy and respectful. Falco wants Cass for himself; Luca wants Cass to be happy. Where Falco throws jealous tantrums, Luca encourages her to find someone “of [her] own choosing” after he’s executed.
My only minor criticism is that I had to suspend disbelief near the end. Cass’s plan feels so obvious and simple that it begs the question, “Why doesn’t everyone just do this?”
That one quibble aside, I found BELLADONNA an addictive read and can’t wait to read book three: STARLING.