by Stephanie Burgis
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Purchase: Amazon | B&N
In 1814, the Congress of Vienna has just begun. Diplomats battle over a new map of Europe, actors vie for a chance at glory, and aristocrats and royals from across the continent come together to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon…among them Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow. But Caroline has a secret: she was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. When her father was arrested by the secret police, Caroline’s childhood was stolen from her by dark alchemy.
Under a new name and nationality, she returns to Vienna determined to save her father even if she has to resort to the same alchemy that nearly broke her before. But she isn’t expecting to meet her father’s old apprentice, Michael Steinhüller, now a charming con man in the middle of his riskiest scheme ever.
The sinister forces that shattered Caroline’s childhood still rule Vienna behind a glittering façade of balls and salons, Michael’s plan is fraught with danger, and both of their disguises are more fragile than they realize. What price will they pay to the darkness if either of them is to survive?
Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis is an adult historical fiction fantasy that takes the reader to the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and weaves three storylines that intertwine delivering suspense, intrigue, and dark magic.
The year is 1814 and all the aristocrats and royals from across the continent have converged on Vienne for the Congress of Vienna to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon. It is a celebration but also a week of high politicking as each diplomat hopes to control again or be granted lands within the new map of Europe.
Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow, is among the guests and hopes to gain the Emperor’s ear. Caroline is not at all who she seems, although she plays the role to perfection. She was born, Karolina Vogl. Her father was a Viennese printer arrested by the secret police when Caroline was but a child. Dark magic robbed Caroline of her youth and so much more. Caroline has returned to the place of her childhood nightmares to save her father.
Michael Steinhuller escaped Vienna as a young man; in fact, he was an apprentice for Karolina’s father. He fled the night Caroline’s world fell apart, and has spent his time adrift as a con man. He has returned to carry out the greatest scheme of his life posing as Prince Kalishnikoff of Kenova. The risks are high, but the rewards for this scheme are plentiful.
Both characters are well-developed and driven to succeed in their tasks, but complications, danger, and evil forces wreak havoc placing them both in danger. Interference, blackmail, and promises from others kept me flipping the pages. Their plan and the plot twisted left and right creating an excellent sense of both urgency and doom.
Neither has spoken, so when they bump into each other, both are shocked. We briefly learn of their past shared history. Caroline has been angry with Michael thinking he abandoned her. Things are complicated, but the two aid each other or should I say Caroline tolerates him. I liked the chemistry between them, and we do get a very subtle romance, but the dangerous games they are both playing take center stage.
Despite all the jubilation and hopes of obtaining title, lands and favor there is also a great darkness. A powerful dark magic still rules Vienna, putting both Michael and Caroline in great danger. I enjoyed the thread on alchemy, and Burgis slowly weaves it into the story. The author builds the story on Caroline’s fears as she unearths and reveals the evil.
There are two additional points of views those of Emperor Francis, a man greedy for power. He is forever plotting and those of Peter, a young theatrical director. He is taking his production house to Vienna and ends up in great peril after helping Michael gain entry to the city. Both of these added interest notched up the danger and slowly weaved back into the tale centering on the evil that hides behind the glitter and masks in Vienna.
Congress of Secrets was a suspenseful tale with bits of actual history woven into the story from events and historical characters to the study and practice of alchemy in the 1800’s. These added a believability to the story and grounded the quest Carolina was on and made Michael’s scheme seem plausible. I loved her rendition of Emperor Francis and those of Count Pergen. The Count of Pergen was a sinister man in European history. His role in the Congress of Secrets will send shivers down your spine.
Whether you love clever plots, quests, dark magic or political intrigue, there is something for everyone in this engaging tale. Vivid, unique characters and a dash of romance only added to this brilliant tale.
One lucky US follower can win a copy of Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis for their own. Good luck and thank you Prometheus Books for sponsoring this giveaway.
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