Published: November 1, 2016
Genre: Fantasy- Historical
Pages: 340 (Paperback)
My Rating: 3.5/5.0
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?
Once I read the synopsis for Congress of Secrets a few months ago, I knew that I HAD to read it! Historical fantasy novels are quickly climbing up my list of favorite things to read and this one looked beautiful. , it didn’t just have the looks- this book had great content, from the setting to the characters, to the devious plots.
I thought Lady Caroline Wyndham was superb- she was beautiful, conniving, and clever. She managed to go from a printer’s daughter to a wealthy lady of English high society. Caroline had valiant intentions, though at times I wondered if she was somewhat too naïve or starry-eyed to think what could happen to a person in 24 years. It turns out she was a little naïve, or perhaps overly hopeful in the end. Michael (or should I say Prince Kalishnikoff) knew Caroline when they were children in Vienna, though they both went their separate ways rather abruptly after Caroline’s father was taken prisoner by the Austrian Secret Police for printing pamphlets decrying the state of the nation and the actions of the emperor. The two come together during the Congress and both are trying to maintain their facades and play a complicated and dangerous game.
It took me awhile to get really hooked on the plot, though from the very beginning it was clear that it was my kind of story. It’s really a story of con artists and impersonators with noble intentions- I love stories like this, so I can’t really say why I wasn’t on board from the get-go. The addition of alchemy as a thing of terror was underwhelming in my opinion, it almost detracted entirely from the quality of the book. It’s like it just wasn’t sinister or present enough to make a real impact. Sure, it was made to be a significant part of the plot, but it felt like a puzzle piece that worked, but wasn’t a perfect fit. Alchemy maybe could have been more properly introduced, or more present in the story.
Congress of Secrets was a solidly done story, though I didn’t love it. Overall, I was detached from the characters, which I thought could have benefited from a more detailed background. If the story had run from the fateful day when Caroline’s father was taken in by the police to the conclusion I think the reader could and would be more empathetic towards both Michael and Caroline and the sinister Count Pergen would have actually been sinister rather than vaguely discomfiting. As a whole, it was a lovely piece of historical fantasy, with lots of actual historical figures that played significant roles in the Congress of Vienna (I googled them to see what they actually did). I’ve always thought books like this are a great way to get people- myself included- more interested in historical events and provide a spark that makes a person want to go out and learn more on their own!