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Belladonna - Fiona Paul Much like it's predecessor, Belladonna got off to a bit of a slow start for me.  But knowing that the author takes her time building the story, trying to catch her stride, I knew that I'd get to the middle and practically be unable to stop reading.  And that's exactly what happened.

Fiona Paul has done it again.  She's taken Renaissance Italy and made it even more beautiful and picturesque, but she's also lent an air of mystery and creepiness to the story by setting part of it in Florence, where there have been reports of vampires.  Vampires!  I know, right?  But that aspect is all about perception and what one believes.  Though, I suppose much of this story is, considering a major underyling theme is religion versus science.  But I'm not about to get into that debate here.

So, Cass is all set to start her life with Luca after the events of Venom.  She's forsaken Falco for the life she is supposed to have, the one that would make her parents proud.  But she still can't stop thinking about him.  I'm not going to lie, I'm not the biggest fan of Falco.  Even more so after the thing at the end of this book, but that's not the biggest factor.  He's pompous and a bit obscene, and though he genuinely seems to care for Cass, his heart is not always in the right place with regards to her.  I mean, it seems that every tête-à-tête between them results in him trying to bed her.  Not cool...especially considering what that would do to her reputation as a noble woman.  And he has nothing to offer her.  I understand that forbidden love is exciting, and normally I could get on board with it, but Falco just doesn't do it for me.  Cass is still charmingly innocent in the ways of love -- despite being a bit of a voyeur! -- and I hope she remains so.

Now, Luca...that's a man.  He provides.  He protects.  He is the antithesis of Falco in every way.  Sure, he's not as passionate, but he's respectful and shy, and Luca is just what Cass needs to calm her adventurous spirit before she finds herself in more danger than she can escape from.  And he has a history with Cass.  One that they both need to dig deeper into in order to figure out what happened to her parents and determine what role the Order of the Eternal Rose and Joseph Dubois played in their deaths.

I must admit, the love triangle is not as central to the story in this second installment, which might have something to do with why the pacing picked up sooner and I found myself glued to the pages.  Falco is absent for a large part of the novel, and Luca spends a lot of his time in a dungeon this time around.  For the most part, Cass is on her own.  But that was probably for the best since she's got her own investigation to undertake.  The mystery of the Order of the Eternal Rose, the ageless Belladonna, the strange Dottor Piero...these are what intrigued me most this time around.  That, and figuring out what it all had to do with Renaissance vampires.

I wouldn't say that the story is predictable, though I did guess the direction the story was taking fairly early on.  Like I said, it's all about what one believes or perceives to be true.  I'm open-minded but I also take everything with a grain of salt.  Somehow, my wild, hair-brained theories always pan out.  But the journey to seeing those theories come to fruition is still fun in this case, so it didn't hinder my enjoyment of the novel one bit.  In fact, I was rather excited to see how everything played out.

Though I enjoyed Venom, Belladonna marks a surprising improvement upon the first book and has guaranteed that I absolutely must pick up Starling when it releases next year.  After the ending in this book, I'm not sure what the future holds for our heroine, but I know that she won't give up until she knows all of the Order's secrets.  I just hope she nabs them before they nab her.

Thanks to Penguin for providing an ARC of this title for review.

This review can also be found at The Starry-Eyed Revue.