#11 “Belladonna” by Fiona Paul

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i. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
ii. Dracula – Bram Stoker
1.  Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
2. Holiday in Cambodia – Laura Jean McKay
3. Only Human – Gareth Roberts
4. Beautiful Chaos – Gary Russell
5. The Silent Stars – Dan Abnett
6. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
7. Every Breath – Ellie Marney
8. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
9. Delirium – Lauren Oliver
10. Pandemonium – Lauren Oliver
11. Requiem – Lauren Oliver
12. Venom – Fiona Paul
13. Belladonna – Fiona Paul
14. A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

I don’t really understand pseudonyms, or noms de plume, in the 21st century. I mean, for JK Rowling, sure. If she wants to see whether her works would get published without her “brand” attached, why not use a pseudonym? I think that’s brilliant. Not to mention awe-inspiring. If I were as famous as JK Rowling, I think I’d use my name on everything.
Actually, I’m pretty sure Bloomsbury made JK use her initials as her pen name because apparently women can’t write good fantasy. I think her multimillionaire status really showed them.

But then again the author of Deltora Quest used a female pen name. So I guess it depends on the publisher, some are just smarter than others. (Women can’t write fantasy. Don’t make me laugh).

E.L. James of Fifty Shades is a pseudonym. But that’s a no-brainer. If I had written that piece of grammatically awful, pathetically plot-pointed, let’s-take-feminism-back-a-few-centuries piece of trash I wouldn’t put my name on it either.

Back in the day, women used pen names so their works would be accepted. The Brontë sisters? All of them used male pseudonyms. As did Louise May Alcott of Little Women. And George Eliot? Actually a pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans. This was all because of the gender inequality that was rampant throughout the literary community in previous centuries. And still is, apparently. “Women can’t write fantasy”. Ha!

According to GoodReads, Fiona Paul is a pseudonym for author Paula Stokes. This is a pseudonym that makes absolutely no sense to me. The Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy is brilliant thus far. I am not quite understanding why Paula would not want her real name on the series. Please, if anybody knows they can tell me right now. I adore this series. It has everything that YA requires, plus some extra things that we didn’t even know YA needed.

Belladonna picks up right where Venom  left off. But soon after a lovely, tender moment between Cass and Luca, Luca is taken away and is apparently about to hang for the crime of heresy, or the “belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine”. It was such an enormous deal back in the day. After Cass tricks her way into the jail (she’s a wily one) Luca tells her that his only hope of survival is to prove his innocence by finding the “Book of the Eternal Rose”. So Cass tags along with her friend Mada and her new husband Marco on a trip to Florence, where she encounters all sorts of nasty things. And Falco.

The best thing about this novel is that it touches on the legend of vampires. Which we all know is a must for YA fiction these days. Only, people honestly believed in vampires in this book. At a time where science can’t explain everything, the only choice people have is to believe in the Church and in deeply-ingrained superstition. So when girls start falling ill, with “bite marks” and paleness as two of the symptoms, what choice do the people have other than to suspect vampires? Paul captures this superstition beautifully. Especially in a conversation between Mada and Falco, where Falco denounces the Church and the idea of vampires, and Mada looks horrified. Paul captures the mood of the time so well that when we meet Belladonna Briani, Falco’s patroness, and she is pale, beautiful, and looks half her age, there is an illogical voice in the back of our heads that whispers “vampire”. Of course, this isn’t the case, and both Belladonna and the vampire threat is explained. Both have to do with the shadowy Order of the Eternal Rose. But if I say anything more, I’ll just be giving it away.

As much as I loved this book, there was one thing that annoyed me. Falco. I totally understand that teenagers fall in and out of love faster than an adult can blink, but Falco [SPOILER] betraying Cass for Belladonna felt out of character. He loved Cass. He loved her fire and the way she broke the mould for noblewomen and, of course, for her beauty. He tells Cass that Belladonna’s beauty is too hard and unreal for him. But then he goes off and is obviously having an affair with the evil woman! When I read Falco, I read a character who shoots straight from the hip (even though I don’t think guns had been invented by this stage). If he wanted Belladonna he would have told Cass so. In the nicest way possible, but still. I mean, sure, he lied about his job in Venom, but who wouldn’t:

“So, what do you do for a living?”
“Oh, you know, I rob graves and deliver the corpses to a mad doctor who then cuts these bodies up and tries to extract a mysterious ‘fifth humour’ from the already congealed blood sitting around in their veins. But enough about me, what do you do? Wait, where are you going?”

I always thought that Falco was straight-forward with what he wanted in love. He knew Cass was engaged, knew it couldn’t go anywhere, and yet he wanted her. And told her so. So why wouldn’t he say anything to Cass about Belladonna? I know why, now. He’s a slick operator who just likes pretty girls and toys with them, during a time where relationships ended in “til death do us part” or the relationships didn’t start in the first place. I hate that. Falco was lovely. And then he had to go and turn into part of the 95% of men that only use women for sex and whatever else.

I suppose Falco had to be besmirched so that when [SPOILER] Cass ends up with Luca after breaking him out of jail, we don’t feel any sense of loss. Just that Cass has ended up with the right man who was under her nose all along.

I just want to take a side note here and congratulate Cass Caravello for deciding to break her fiancé out of prison rather than wallow in her silk sheets and have food brought up to her chambers. Which she had every right to do, as a noblewoman. Her aunt was even going to find her another match, once Luca was…gone. But Cass was having none of it. She, and her lady’s maid, broke into the Venetian prison, took on a guard, and managed to break Luca out of said prison. How is that for a strong female protagonist? YA readers take note: Bella and Anastasia are weak. Forget them. Come over to the light side where we have Katniss and Clary and Tessa and Cass and Hermione. 

I don’t really mind the whole “he was right there all along” cliché, because it’s something Cass struggles with throughout the whole book. It’s not some sudden realisation that makes you want to burn the book you’re reading. Cass starts to doubt her beloved Falco and “for the first time wished [he] were more like her fiancé”. You can see her emotions changing and roiling away inside her. Then when Falco reveals his true heart, Cass sees Luca’s. So, in this case, the cliché works. Very well done, Miss Paul.

There’s nothing else I can really say except that I can’t wait for Starling  to land on March 20th, next year.

★★★★1/2

Actually there is one more thing: The American cover?

Still prettier

Still prettier than the Australian one.

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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8 Responses to #11 “Belladonna” by Fiona Paul

  1. How have I not heard of this series at all? Right when I realized this was a second book and I saw spoilery alerts everywhere I just safely scrolled on down here. We tend to like/hate the same books, so this one is going right on my TBR list. I love a good series. On the pseudonym subject though, did you know that when they asked Jo Rowling to use her initials, she had to make one up? She doesn’t even have a middle name. Katherine is her grandmother’s name so she just rolled with it. She said that they wanted the books to look attractive to boys and girls, and they though if they used her real name that boys wouldn’t want to read a fantasy story by a woman. But seriously, is Jo not already the most unisex name ever? Why not just use that?

    • Bec Graham says:

      I hadn’t heard of it either. I was strolling along the shelves in Dymocks and I saw Venom just sitting there, waiting to be noticed. Not sure if you found this, but here’s the first book: https://infernalimagination.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/10-venom-by-fiona-paul/
      You guys in the States get the most gorgeous covers for this series!!!

      The whole JK thing? Yeah, I did. It’s totally ridiculous. Nice that JK got to commemorate her grandmother on the covers of these childhood defining books, but seriously Bloomsbury. Jo? Definitely unisex. >.<

      But then again, if I had been in JK's place I would have said yes to any name they wanted if they were gonna publish my book, haha

      • Haha true story! I’m sure at that point she would have been just about ready to change her name to anything they wanted her too. Can you imagine if she would have said no and then we wouldn’t have gotten HP? It’s a crazy world we live in!

      • Bec Graham says:

        I love JK’s story. Those 12 publishers that passed over HP must be feeling so stupid. I bet those editors got fired…

        OMG…a world without Harry Potter. Don’t even want to think about it.

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  4. Hey 🙂 I stumbled across your review of STARLING while looking for my SLJ review. Thanks for the kind words. I’m kind of curious to see what Khanh thinks of the 3rd book 🙂

    I think the thing about betrayal, for me, is that most of us would never betray someone close to us, so it takes really damning evidence for us to be truly suspicious. Or maybe I’m just programmed to give people the benefit of the doubt so I made Cass that way too.

    The reason I used a pseudonym is because the books are work-for-hire books developed via Paper Lantern Lit. The copyright is theirs. The storylines are collaborative but the original concept is theirs. The writing is mine. The editing is also collaborative. They control the pen name. It was actually a contract stipulation that I use one, though I was allowed to pick it.

    It’s not uncommon when an author switches genres for them to take on a pen name, just because the people who like VENOM might not be the same people who like THE ART OF LAINEY (which is my concept, story, writing, editing, copyright.) They’re very different books and I wouldn’t want anyone to pick up LAINEY assuming it’ll be like VENOM because that could end in a disappointing reading experience.

    Hope that helps 🙂 Feel free to email authors with burning questions like that. Some authors are too busy to answer email, but I even know some bestsellers who manage to respond to everyone at least once.

    • Bec Graham says:

      Oh wow, hi Ms Stokes! I am so honoured that you read my blog! I love the Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy. I thought it was amazing. Thank you for the insight into Cass. I really do love her character development. You don’t see many characters make such huge changes in their lives. I found it so refreshing. And there was no magic! Historical YA! Amazing.

      I get it now, the pseudonym thing. It makes a lot of sense. The Paper Lantern Lit thing sounds interesting. So PLL come to you with a story idea if they think your writing style matches their story? That’s an interesting concept. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of writing done quite that way before. It still boggles my mind that two authors wrote the Beautiful Creatures series. Writing is such a solitary thing. Well, to me anyway. (I hope to be a writer some day!)

      Thanks again for stopping by. It made my day, seeing this reply to my post 🙂

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