Fiona Paul's feisty heroine Cass Caravello returns in Belladonna, the second part of the Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy.
The events of Belladonna transpire shortly after the conclusion of Venom, in which we were introduced to Cass's privileged world. Cass is happily engaged to Luca da Peraga, who has returned from law school in France. Falco, the artist who stole her heart, has left town after getting a new job. It seems like things are finally settling down for Cass and her sickly aunt Agnese.
Riveting: Belladonna, Fiona Paul's sequel to Venom, has heroine Cass Caravello involved in more dangerous adventures, this time in Florence, in an attempt to save her fiance from execution and clear his name
However, early in the book, Luca is arrested on charges of speaking against the Church and imprisoned pending execution. There is no trial, and the witnesses against him are rather well-connected and may have been bribed by Joseph Dubois, the wealthy Frenchman implicated in the murders committed in Venom. Luca gives Cass information that a secret document, the Book of the Eternal Rose, may get him off the hook if found. His directions lead Cass and her friends to Florence, where one of his accusers has also headed for.
The document is guarded by the mysterious Order of the Eternal Rose, led by the eerily stunning Belladonna. While the girls are there, the city is beset by rumours of vampires and people are being rounded up by the Church and executed for vampirism. Amid the chaos, Cass discovers that the Order is involved in some extremely sinister rituals and is conveniently exploiting the paranoia for its own ends, as well as the involvement of her own family members in the group.
Belladonna answers some of the questions from Venom, but also raises a few questions on its own. Hopefully Paul will address them all in Starling, the concluding instalment of the series due early next year. To properly understand the drama that unfolds in Belladonna it is advised to have finished reading Venom. Cass practically comes of age in this book, doing everything to save her fiance from the gallows, albeit at great personal risk. Such traits are practically non-existent in Generation Z today.
Paul also vividly describes occult practices and irrational superstition that was associated with Italy in the 1600s. The popular legend of a supposedly-dead woman returning to life after someone tries to cut off her finger to steal a ring from her body after burial is also given much mileage here. Overall, Belladonna is harder to put down than Venom, given its intriguing plotline.