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!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge