Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Set in a glittering post-Napoleon Vienna, this novel sparkles. Yes, it sparkles! Action-packed and with a wonderful romance at the heart of it, Congress of Secrets also has just enough of the politics of the era to add depth to an intriguing fantasy.
The main characters, Michael and Karolina, have their own goals, but fit so very well together. Michael aims for one last con, one big enough to gain him a secure retirement from a life he didn’t really want to live. Karolina wants to rescue her father, and is willing to descend to almost any depth to do it. Both share a past in Vienna that both want to remember and forget. Watching them was an exercise in patience and frustration that had a wonderful reward at the end that was worth every moment wanting to throttle both of them.
Burgis also includes some of the great figures of the day in this story, such as the cunning French ambassador, Tallyrand and the wonderful Prince de Ligne, my personal favorite. Charming, witty, and with a hidden steel within him, the Prince is also incredibly, surprisingly kind. And I love it when that happens in a story.
Another side character of note, mostly because of his transformation in the course of the story, is the non-historical Peter Riesenbeck, head of a theatrical troupe, and unwitting member of Michael’s con. I went through so many emotions watching him change in response in ways that were all too human and perfectly understandable, given what happens to him. His ending was almost as powerful as Karolina and Michael’s triumphs.
As for the romance, it’s passionate and sweet, very much in line with what can be expected of a Regency novel, but with less playful banter and more action. Michael and Karolina work well together, and I loved watching them become partners as well as something more.