Review + Annotated Excerpt: Belladonna by Fiona Paul

Series: Secrets of the Eternal Rose #2
Publication Date: July 16, 2013
Publisher: Philomel
Reading Level: Young Adult, 14+
Pages: 339 (ARC)
Source: Gifted
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 fiancĂ©, 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.
 ~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

Guys, I'm going to be honest need to give me a minute to calm my beating heart because THIS. BOOK. WAS. EPIC. Everything I hoped it would be and more, Fiona Paul never ceases to amaze me with her thrilling plot and beautifully written characters. She's easily cemented herself as one of my favorite authors. Then again, I knew she was a favorite after reading only book one.

This book picks up shortly after book one leaves off and we jump into the thick of things almost immediately. Luca's arrested in the middle of night by soldiers under charges of heresy--one of the worst crimes you could ever commit in this time period. Cass must find a way to prove his innocence within a mere month or he'll be executed. Her search leads her to beautiful Florence, Italy. And let me tell you, Firenze is absolutely gorgeous. If you have the chance to go, go. But, back to the book...In Florence, the Church is executing women publicly every morning because they've been infected by vampires. Whether these women insist their innocent or confess to a crime they will be sentenced to death by drowning without a trial as a public spectacle. It's a horrible way to go and it's made worse by a crowd chanting for your death. As you can tell, this plot is absolutely amazing and it makes it impossible to put this book down. In comparison to VENOM, this somehow managed to make me flip pages even faster. It is a very quick read because the gorgeous writing pulls you in from page one.

I do have a confession, though. At one point, I was completely thrown off because of the impromptu vampire epidemic occurring in Florence and spreading to Venice. I think the overall concept of vampires are insanely overdone in literature these days and I thought that such a creature had no place in a historical fiction murder mystery with one of the most delicious romances I've ever read. But, wow, guys. Just wow. When I found out the true importance of the concept of vampires in this historical setting my mind was completely blown. Fiona found a way to make such oddness completely blow our minds and contribute to the plot considerably. Her plot twists are absolutely brilliant and she somehow made me fall in love with her writing even more.

As always, Cass is among my favorite heroines ever. She's very strong, independent, and stubborn. She's determined to do what is right, even if it seems that the world is against her. She does not quit and she will stop at nothing to reach her goals. While such exemplary characterization is shown throughout the novel, it especially shines in the last few chapters of this book. Cass's determination took her down a route I never thought possible and it completely blew the plot of book three and romance in unforeseen and unexplored territory. 

And while we got a healthy dosing of Falco, I wish we had more. Then again, I can never get enough of Falco. As swoon-worthy and mysterious as always, I'm still an addict when it comes to him. But, unfortunately, Falco specializes in heartbreak and he did not disappoint in this book. Gah, the feels, people! It's so easy for any scene with him to tug at my heart, which is another amazing nod to Fiona's writing skills. I never knew whether I loved him or temporarily hated him, and you know you have an amazing character if he can invoke such powerful emotions within you.

Surprisingly, there was not much of Luca in this one. Then again, he was in prison in the Doge's Palace for the great majority of this book. Again, if you ever visit Venice, please go! It's sort of like their own medieval White House but it's not white. I think that the man he is turning into is amazing. He's grown alongside Cass and he's learning how to make the readers swoon, too. Oh my gosh, I'm saying it! There may be someone with the ability to somewhat rival Falco even though Falco will forever own my heart! Key word: somewhat.

And the big surprise in this one was Siena. Despite her peasant status and her occupation as serving Cass, she was perhaps the best friend I've ever found in a book. She stood by Cass through thick and thin and would do anything to help her. She was amazing and their friendship despite their separate social statuses was beautiful. I loved reading about her and I loved her characterization and emergence as a true friend and force to be reckoned with alongside Cass.

To put it simply, this is the general gist that you should have gotten from this review: If you have not read this series, you have to pick it up immediately. It is so worth it, and you can thank me later.

Full of mystery, intrigue, and dark creepiness that is absolutely addicting, Paul had me begging for more and shivering out of fear simultaneously. I've never rooted for a romance so hard. And never before have I appreciated creepy graveyard scenes in the middle of the night. I'm telling you, this book has the power to hold you captive forever. It is absolutely unputdownable.

5 stars


 FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation in return for this honest review.

~*~Annotated Excerpt~*~
Cass let her aunt lead the conversation through dinner, doing her best to appear attentive but remaining uncharacteristically quiet. When Agnese finally asked her what was wrong, Cass sighed dramatically.
“I just can’t stop worrying about Luca,” she admitted. That much was true. “And every time I leave the house . . . ,” she trailed off.
“Yes?” Agnese coughed into her dinner napkin.
“I feel like everyone is staring at me, and saying horrible things.” Cass looked up at her aunt for just a second before dropping her eyes back to the tray balanced on her lap. “Mada thinks I should get away for a while. She and Marco are going to Florence in a couple of days. She keeps insisting that I join her.” Cass sighed again. “I keep telling her that I should stay. I can’t just run away because the entire city seems to be mocking me, or worse—pitying me. What do I care what other people think?”
Agnese swallowed hard, placing her fork down next to her plate of roasted duck. She cared greatly what other people thought. “I do worry about whether Matteo has heard of Luca’s predicament,” she said. Matteo was Agnese’s nephew by marriage. He would come of age soon and inherit the estate, and Agnese fretted obsessively about her stature in his eyes because she didn’t want him to toss out Cass and the serving staff if he chose to come live in the villa. “Maybe a short trip would do you some good,” Agnese continued. “Florence is lovely this time of year.”
“But I can’t leave you here alone, Aunt Agnese,” Cass said, knowing this would further convince her aunt that she should leave. She picked listlessly at a greasy slab of duck, hoping she wasn’t overdoing it. Agnese was no fool. If she figured out Cass was trying to con her, Cass would end up locked inside the villa again while Narissa watched her every move.
“Alone? I wish I could have a moment alone in this house,” her aunt grumbled. “Narissa checks on me nine times a day, and that foul doctor shows up at all hours with his bloodsucking pets, not to mention the serving staff—I hardly think you’d be leaving me alone.”
Cass formed her face into a hopeful expression. “Really? It would be nice to get away for a bit . . .”
Agnese nodded. “And Madalena’s mere presence is a tonic for you.”
Cass leaned forward and kissed her aunt on the cheek. “You’ve convinced me,” she said. “I’ll send word to Mada immediately, if you’re sure you don’t mind being without me.”
“Of course I don’t mind. It was my idea. I only wish you would listen to me more often,” Agnese huffed.
Cass had to lift her napkin to her mouth to conceal a smile.         
Fiona’s thoughts: This passage is important to me because of what I mentioned in the last post about wanting Cass to actively use her brain. I don’t like it when books tell me that the main character is smart/well-educated/savvy/etc. but then her actions don’t back it up. Admittedly, Cass is more book-smart and less stress-smart, but after I had to cut a section of the book where she decodes a riddle left for her by Luca, I sought out other places where she could use her brain to advance the plot. Agnese is going to be even more protective of her than usual because of Luca’s arrest and had Cass simply asked—or worse, demanded—to go to Florence, it’s likely Agnese would have refused.

But instead, I have Cass play it smart here and utilize Agnese’s worry of public perception to her advantage. Agnese knows all of Venice is probably thinking ill of Luca and she doesn’t want Cass to be pitied or scorned. Additionally, Agnese is a proud woman who wants to feel independent, even though she’s not, so by Cass insinuating she abandon her aunt, it only makes Agnese more determined to send her to Florence. Which is good, since that’s where a lot of the cool stuff happens.

This is also  another instance of character development. The Cass of Venom played more of a supporting role in her story—the plot being driven by Falco on several occasions. By the end of Belladonna, Cass is following her head and her heart and making brave decisions completely independent of any ‘male guidance.’

~*~Author Information~*~

Fiona Paul is a writer and registered nurse from St. Louis, MO.

Fiona's Blog:
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Belladonna on GR:

Check out yesterday's blog tour stop from Teresa at Readers Live One Thousand Lives.

Tomorrow's tour stop will be at Kari's Crowded Bookshelf. 


  1. I love how she incorporated the vampire myths into the plot! Such a great and surprising dynamic. And Siena was such an amazing character this time around. I love this review! You touched upon so many things and I agree with everything you said! :)

  2. I have Venom, but it's historical which is why I've resisted reading it for so long. Maybe I'll give it a try though if you say Fiona Paul has become one of your fav authors (must be brilliant then). So sad they redesigned the covers! I really liked the old ones.

  3. Great review! I also hate when series covers change because then my books don't match (since I have the original Venom cover). I love how tricky Cass is in the excerpt.

  4. Awesome review! And this book really was EPIC! And I love that excerpt! It was one of my favorite parts of the books and for reasons Fiona mentioned! I love that Cass manipulates her aunt and knows just how far to push is. Manipulation is bad but this was for a good cause hehe.

  5. Your reviews are always so thorough! I picked up Venom after reading your gushing review of it last year. :-) I love historical fiction and a good romance is a must for me in any book. Usually I hate when series covers change, but I LOVE this cover change because it reflects the mix of historical fiction and romance so well. And the new covers are just beautiful!

  6. I really like the relationship between Cass and her aunt. I totally agree that this book was EPIC! I'm so glad that you liked it as much as I did! Awesome review. I remember thinking how clever Cass could be when she wanted to manipulate Agnese!