Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis
Published: 01.11.2016 by Pyr
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, YA
Rating: 4.5/5 stars – ★★★★.5
I received this book from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion in any way.
Synopsis: 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.
When I saw this book on Edelweiss, I was immediately intrigued. Historical fiction? Yes please. Set in Europe? Yes please. With a slight fantasy twist? Yes please. It sounded like everything I want in a book. And then I saw that Lynn from Lynn’s Books really enjoyed it too, so I had to pick it up. I’m so glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.
This book is set during a period in time I barely know anything of, The Congress of Vienna. For those of you who don’t know, the Congress of Vienna took place after Napoleon was defeated and exiled to Elba. It served the purpose of bringing all the rulers and nobility of the countries conquered by Napoleon together, and to have them work out how to divide his empire again.
It’s kind of shameful to say that I barely know anything about the Napoleonic wars, and I knew next to nothing about The Congress of Vienna. It’s extremely embarrassing to admit that, as Belgium was also involved in said wars. We just always seem to be stuck between warring countries.
I absolutely adored this glimpse into the time period. I loved the parties, the luncheons, the carriages, the extreme spending habits of the nobility, the underground pamphleteers, but above all I loved the glimpse into the royals. The Tsar of Russia, politicians from France, the rulers of Prussia, and Emperor Francis of Austria… Isn’t that quite the gathering?
I loved everything about this setting. It felt so vibrant and rich to me, and I could imagine myself walking the streets of Vienna -even though I’ve never been there before. I have the intense desire to do so now, though.
I feel like I can’t tell you much about the story line of this book, because I don’t think the synopsis does so either. All you need to know is that it takes place during the Congress of Vienna -and that not every nobleman or -woman truly is one.
It was a captivating story, and I read at every available moment on the train and metro. I just had to know what would happen next! Especially the last 25% just flew by. I barely even registered that my train had actually arrived.
I also don’t want to tell you too much about the characters, because I feel like you have to get to know them yourself. But here’s the short(ish) version.
The first main character we follow is Michael. He returns to Vienna in disguise, his head full of plans. He was incredibly interesting. He’s charming and kind, and at first it seems like there’s not much going on underneath the charm. But as you get to know him better, you discover some deep hurts he’s been repressing. I loved getting to know his more vulnerable side -and watching him rediscover it.
The second main character is Caroline. I love her so much, she’s such a strong woman. I think it’s safe to say that she’s been through an incredible amount of pain -both physical and emotional. But she is still here, fighting. I have so much admiration for her. And I thought she was incredibly witty. That’s another aspect of this book I really enjoyed. It’s witty, but in a historical way. Instead of sarcasm, they use a more underhanded way of insulting each other or making ridiculous comments. It’s very fun.
We follow several more characters, obviously. One of which is the Emperor of Austria, for whom I feel nothing but contempt. There is also one other person, I don’t want to say who it is, who made me want to set him on fire. He is the typical guy who is angry at a woman because she doesn’t love him back but feels like she should because he’s always been nice to her. GRRR. MAKES ME SO ANGRY.
Overall, I’d highly recommend this book. It was a fun and captivating read, set in a place and period of time I haven’t read many books of. I’ll definitely check out more of this author’s work!