Congress of Secrets

Written by Stephanie Burgis
Review by J. Lynn Else

At the 1814 Congress of Vienna, diplomats and aristocrats gather to reshape the boundaries of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. Lady Caroline Wyndham is a wealthy English widow in attendance, and with a secret agenda. She seeks her father’s freedom.  Caroline was born Karolina and is the daughter of a Viennese printer who was arrested for publishing seditious pamphlets over 20 years ago. But there’s more to Karolina’s story.  She was also arrested by the head of the secret police, Count Pergen, an alchemist who performed dark magical experiments on her for years until she was sold off into marriage.

When Karolina runs into a childhood friend, Michael Steinhuller, her plans begin to unravel.  He apprenticed with Karolina’s father, and she blames Michael for abandoning them on the night they were arrested.  Since that night, Michael has been on the run as a con artist. He’s in Vienna posing as a Russian noble attempting to earn reparations for losses caused by Napoleon’s army.  He hopes to finally stop running and gain enough money to live comfortably.  Yet when he runs into Karolina, his priorities change.

Nineteenth-century Vienna comes alive in this historical fantasy novel. The historical details are fantastic. Burgis develops interesting fictional characters who walk side by side with well-researched real-life people, including Emperor Francis II, Count Pergen, and the Prince de Ligne, to name a few.  Burgis should edit movies because her book is expertly paced.  My only minor complaint is that the last couple chapters of the finale felt a bit slow when compared to everything leading up to that point.

With a high level of tension and intrigue (which starts very early in the novel), this book is hard to put down. Quite enjoyable. I would definitely pick up another novel by Burgis.