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Review: Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis

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Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis // VBC ReviewCongress of Secrets
Stephanie Burgis
Published: Nov. 1, 2016 (Pyr)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Reviewed by: Beth

Rating (out of 5): 3 stars

Alchemy—understood for years as the transmutation of metals, the obvious goal being to eventually create gold. But what if there was another way to practice Alchemy? A way that would eventually cause the transmutation not of metal…but of a human? This is a practice that Lady Caroline Wyndham is all too familiar with, having been the practice plaything for Vienna’s head of secret police as a child. Finally freed when she is sold to another man, she recreated herself and ends up back in Vienna during the 1814 Congress, intent on freeing her father from the clutches of the very same man who used her so many years ago. Her plan is working perfectly—until she crosses paths with someone from her past who has his own scheme in the works.

Congress of Secrets is historical fiction with paranormal activity woven throughout. The history written about, and the real-life people that populate the novel were fascinating. In fact, they were probably the most fascinating part of the book. And I liked how the author gave some resource material at the end to read up on one of the most fascinating people, The Prince de Ligne. However, the book had some other flaws that occasionally detracted from the overall story.

It would have been helpful if there was a little bit more about the alchemy itself–how it worked, etc. There are a couple of parts (no spoilers) where I felt that more information about the alchemy may have smoothed the story along. As it was, I kept trying to figure out exactly what had just happened…and failing. I finally gave up and just kept going, but it’s frustrating to be jerked out of the story because something in the back of your head keeps niggling at you.

The characters were decent enough, though a few felt cobbled together rather than solid people. Those who had historical basis were the best overall, probably because there was so much material outlining their lives. Charles, Caroline’s assistance, was one such character that felt…incomplete. There is little background on him, and so his later part in the story ended up feeling sort of forced—though again, more information on the alchemy may have helped with him. Caroline and Michael were decent enough, with a good backstory to fill in, but they felt a bit bland.

The setting, however, were grand. Again, it’s probably because there is such a wealth of material to help a writer make it come alive. In this regard, the author did a great job. Vienna in the early 1800s would have been a combination of magical and dirt poor, with the wealthiest being the beautiful people, having salons with the king, and generally making merry. Burgis writes about this part beautifully, making it easy to picture those scenes while reading.

Overall, the story was decent, but could have used a little more…oomph. However, it’s not a bad book, and I’m certain that it will find its niche of readers. It’s not really a young adult book due to the ages of the main characters, but as there is nothing here that most YA readers wouldn’t have read before, there is no reason why it wouldn’t appeal to many of them. It’s got a good basic story, and the historical pieces are fascinating.

Sexual content: none

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