Review of VENOM by FIONA PAUL
(first in THE SECRETS OF THE ETERNAL ROSE trilogy, review based on an advance reading copy)
I found this book engaging right from the start and its hold on me never lessoned. VENOM opens with a funeral. Cass actually seems rather bored and oddly casual about the death of her friend, but I couldn’t tell if that’s meant to exemplify her personality, the time period, or her efforts to distance herself from negative emotions. Odd or not, it didn’t detract from the story. VENOM has an excellent voice that makes this feel like Cass is my friend, telling me her amazing story, rather than a character in a book.
VENOM also defies easy categorization. It fits into numerous genres - young adult, romance, mystery, historical, suspense, etc - but using any one label overly simplifies the book. The combination works well: the author is trying to tell us a certain story, not mold her story into a certain genre.
As an interesting side note, Fiona Paul is actually a pseudonym owned by the publisher. The author’s real name is Paula Stokes and she has some books coming out soon under her own name. I’m already on the lookout for them!
VENOM sets a fairly fast pace and the story never dulls. Specifics depend on each book, but usually I find my attention waxing and waning during a novel. Even with some of my favorites, there might be a chapter I would cut or a less interesting chunk here or there. VENOM not only held my attention from beginning to end, but did so steadily. Paul/Stokes displays impressively tight writing and plotting!
Cass’s fixation with marriage jumped out at me as an interesting theme. She’s more man and marriage focused than I usually like in a character, but in this case I found that fact telling of the times. She knows she will be married off to someone and there’s not much she can do to reverse that fact, so she fantasizes that at the very least it be someone she wants.
I did have to suspend my doubts about Cass and Falco. Personally, I wouldn’t follow a possible murderer to shady places alone in the middle of the night because he’s cute. Yet even this didn’t bother me as much as I would have expected, since Cass’s motivation is so painfully obvious: she wants some adventure and some control over her own life. I hope she finds even more of both in book two!