Acquired Book By: I am a reviewer for Prometheus Books and their imprints starting in  as I contacted them through their Edelweiss catalogues and Twitter. I appreciated the diversity of titles across genre and literary explorations – especially focusing on Historical Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Scientific Topics in Non-Fiction. I received a complimentary copy of “Congress of Secrets” direct from the publisher PYR (an imprint of Prometheus Books) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.
How I came to learn about ‘Congress of Secrets’:
In April, I posted a #PubDay review for this author’s first novel with PYR which was “Masks and Shadows” – not your typical historical, as it held within it elements of Cosy Horror, Alternative History and Historical Fantasy; truly the niche in which the story fit was a work of it’s own, as I lamented the following on behalf of reading it:
One grace Burgis granted her new readers (such as I) is a framework of foundation rooted inside our known historical past! She’s taken bits and bobbles of real historical artifact and knitted it up inside an alternative historical setting to where you can juxtaposition the real and the fictional in seamless fashion! I loved this style of her word craft because it gave a dimensional of awareness of where we’re entreating inside as far as timescape and setting are concerned but also, a knowing level of ‘place’ as it’s a familiar side of Europe during the late 18th Century! How she found the beautiful balance between what is known and what can be imagined is truly remarkable!
I liked how she paced the narrative to the rhythm of a play – it was quite keenly illuminating all the dialogue and action, but to such a clever intuitive nodding of each of the characters in turn taking their cues and then exiting the scenes as necessary!
I was not at all surprised there were Cosy Horror elements underlining the narrative arc as this historical approach to telling a fantastical story reminded me of my readings of Silver Tongue by AshleyRose Sullivan (review) or even The Haunting of Springett Hall by E.B. Wheeler (review) as they mirror Masks and Shadows for bridging genre and bending it to the will of the author’s pen.
-quoted from my review of Masks and Shadows
Shortly after I posted my review, the publicist I work with at Prometheus mentioned Burgis’s next release and from that first glimpse of the premise, I became interested. I had a feeling there might be the same mixture of old world elements, magical intrigue with thrilling suspense and a historical backdrop (this time set in Vienna) I would appreciate drinking in as I moved through her story-line. She has such a unique voice in Historical Fiction, I simply wanted to read what she was going to create next!
I wasn’t surprised that in theory Congress of Secrets follows suit out of Masks and Shadows as you could see the leeway of how the scope of the first novel could be carried forward. Both are marked as one-offs, even though Congress of Secrets is only a scant 35 years later! I’ve learnt a lot about how series can be joined together through theme, setting or genre – and I believe this is one of those series where the characters switch-out but there are elements of connection knitting the series of stories together. They are not continuously sequenced by setting either but rather the way in which the story is told.
Notation on Cover Art Design: I was quite surprised when I saw the photographs on the cover were stock images because in this particular instance the collage effect of having them all together gave me the impression they were specifically created for this cover! I love how the fusion of each photograph blends well with the synopsis and grants you a visual clue about where your heading once you open the novel itself. It is such a beautiful cover design – from the colours and the layout of it directly feeling like the niche Burgis has created.
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?
Places to find the book:
Also by this author: Masks and Shadows
Published by Pyr
on 1st November, 2016
Format: Paperback Edition
Available Formats: Trade Paperback and Ebook
Read the author’s blog about Congress of Secrets!
Converse via: #CongressOfSecrets
On alchemy and dark arts:
As soon as I saw Caroline being affected by the dark alchemy I recognised having been used in Masks and Shadows, I knew this new extension of the plot would thicken quite differently. It took so long to understand the darker elements which were undermining and crippling the characters in the last story – as the heart of the narrative had been a thrilling suspense, where you were meant to be kept in the dark for as long as possible in order to peel back the layers of the novel. In this instance, what was so interesting to me, is how early-on the disclosure is given that something quite alarmingly potent is being used against the will of the people. Setting the stage for a curious new perspective on how to overturn a foe who has sorted out the best advantage against everyone he or she wishes to overtake; not just mind control but a complete reduction in consciousness!
The most chilling element of a Burgis Historical Thriller is the alchemists who wish to do harm and inflict pain on those of whom they wish to control. It isn’t always about this however, as seen in this installment of her alchemist series, sometimes it is to transfer power of energy. The darker the mind and intention of harm, the harder it is to forestall their intentions but what I appreciated in this story is how futile that outcome could become due to how many are starting to notice the effects of the alchemy being used. Previously, it was such an unknown event, that it took a bit to extract oneself from it’s effects and understand what was being manipulated and the means of how that manipulation was being cast. This time around, we know a bit more earlier in the plot, but the reasons ‘why’ are elusively shadowed.
My Review of congress of secrets:
The backdrop of this story is set against the defeat of Bonaparte, where a rogue is planning his descent on Vienna during this incredible time of celebration! Vienna is posed to be the shining beacon of European commerce and trade now that Bonaparte has been put in place; however, all is not quite as bright as all that, or so you would believe. Even the rogue had a sense of time ebbing away from him as his years are gaining on him and his lifestyle of gambling to sustain himself is growing thin. When an opportunity falls into his lap to return to Vienna after self-exile (warranted of, course!), Michael takes a chance to return to the city of his ancestry to see if he can finally right the wrongs of his past. He had to leave under difficult circumstances and despite the risk to his person, his method of sneaking back into the city did have merit!
Michael isn’t the only one scheming – Caroline is rolling the dice with higher stakes than his, acquiescing her alliance with the Prince at the start of the Congress drawing together. So many important persons are flooding into Vienna, everyone is either on display to be dissected or is being murmured about outright. Caroline is the first to realise the overwhelming paralysation she’s experiencing is the same horrid event that she knew in the past; where her family’s future was realigned. Her grit determination to thwart the attack before it can escalate is humbling considering I understand better the odds she has to work against! Her fate now was still entwined with Michael’s (by appearances) as each of them are reuniting themselves with Vienna; a city which hidden secrets and personal losses.
I was smirking when Michael and Caroline’s reunion happened – it was bound to be a bit of a quirk of circumstance, as one never felt they’d see the other again whilst one plotted a way to rescue her father! It was interesting on the level that it outraged Caroline’s temperament quite a bit, regarding her courage to still carry through with her plans but it gave an unexpected zeal of folly to Michael of whom I think regarded her with admiration for being able to play the card she was presenting in disguise! Each of them have had practice with perceptional deception and I think that is what gave Michael the best reaction of all; how Caroline had worked out even the smallest of details to hold her illusion in place!
Caroline goes through a bit of an awakening – where she realises the losses she’s sustained are truly not the kind any woman should embrace. She’s even realised that she had never allowed herself the joy of being in love with a man, as duty or circumstance precluded to her passiveness rather than her assertion of free choice. When she was near Michael, she remembered what it would be like to be a woman and of whom whose heart was not cast away into dutiful respite but blooming in the warmth of his love. Caroline was a complicated woman but at her core, she was still a woman who had everyday hopes and dreams.
The hardest truths of Caroline’s past are the wickedest by those who seek to dabble in the dark arts; to confine power not naturally contrived for their own devices without thought to those of whom they would hurt in the process. Caroline fell victim to such a person whose heart was blackened past his own humanity and erased by a fever of ruthlessness that sought only to conquer. Everything came to a head during the Congress; where too many forces were gathering; some for good but others, had darker needs and motivations. To unravel this mystery you had to seek the truth out of the darkness and to push back the layers of where sanity and the illusion of power can bewitch the mind into thinking they are above perdition.
On the alternative historical styling of Stephanie Burgis:
Burgis has a genuine love of the historical past – as she knits into her historical thrillers a pause of effect for being able to transport her readers directly into the timescape she is writing about next. In this instance, she has found all the nuances and style of the 19th Century to be fully embroidered throughout the story, to where each place you look to gather a sense about your locale, is finely tuned to give you the best impression you can take with you.
Even though I think Caroline was meant to be a calculating woman whose agenda was locked in stone, Burgis had a way of endearing you to her character, as if she wasn’t as cold-hearted as she was redemptive. She had a purpose in mind and one that brokered pure tenacity and fortitude of spirit, even though her willingness to act against her own conscience at times might forestall some to think twice, you had to give the woman credit for being able to handle what was happening whilst staying true to the course she intended to walk. I could see how writing Caroline would be great folly; she’s not the warmest character or one who is easily understood (due to her motivations) but she has a way about her which leaves you curious to learn more.
Burgis truly wrote a compelling story of the fierce determination of a daughter seeking redemption – not only for herself but her father. A girl who was raised behind a conspiracy of dark arts and the nefarious underworld of men who sought to use elemental science to control any outcome they wished to seek. The historical backdrop and the intimate honesty of how two innocents could be caught up inside the vortex of alchemy was well executed and comprised of an ending that was quite fittingly poetic!
This book review is courtesy of:
Celebrate with Ms Burgis & RT this lovely tweet:
Celebrating Congress of Secrets's book birthday in chocolate-and-coffee style! :) pic.twitter.com/sY9eEG4jRE
— Stephanie Burgis 🐲 (@stephanieburgis) November 1, 2016
Book Bloggers & the book blogosphere are celebrating this release:
- Review | Caffeinated Book Reviewer
- Review | Space and Scorcery
- Review | Starship Library
- Review | Powder & Page
- Review | Inside of a Dog
- Guest Post | On writing ‘Congress of Secrets’ by Stephanie Burgis | Rising Shadow
My next reviews showcasing titles from Prometheus are:
Nebula Awards 2015 (review),
Nebula Awards 2016
The New Science of Conscienceousness,
The Circle ,
and Complexity (review).
I had to take a small hiatus from posting most of the reviews I had in queue during September & October due to a return of my chronic migraines compounded with the issue regarding a dead computer. I am thankful to resume blogging frequently now that my headaches are at bay, as I have been curiously delighted by the titles being released by Prometheus and look forward to sharing them with you! As Autumn shifts forward, a new computer gives me unexpected joy and the stories are invigorating to read! I look forward to cross-sharing these lovelies with readers and bloggers who are participating in Sci Fi November (follow tag: #RRSciFiMonth) of which I am a 4th Year Blogger!
I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst bloggers who picked up the same story to read.
Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2016.
Comments via Twitter:
— Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) November 1, 2016
— Stephanie Burgis 🐲 (@stephanieburgis) November 1, 2016
— SpooktasticallyJorie (@joriestory) November 1, 2016
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge