“Starling” by Fiona Paul

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Something that’s missing from a lot of YA fiction is character development. I’m not talking about quality characters, YA is full of those: Will Herondale, Jem Carstairs, Peeta Mellark, Primrose Everdeen, Luna Lovegood, Magnus Bane just to name a few. I’m talking about characters who grow as people. Harry Potter definitely does. So does Alec Lightwood and Will Herondale, but as a whole, the characters of YA stay rather static. They stay wonderful, complex people. We don’t see much change. It’s not something I would usually pick on in YA. All teenagers go through some kind of transition, but these transitions are very rarely anything that changes the characters in any noticeable way.

This will probably get me cyber-killed, but what’s said is said.

What I adore about The Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy is that Cassandra Caravello actually does experience dramatic change. She grows up. She matures, and becomes a young woman right in front of your eyes. When we first meet Cass in Venom, she is very much the spoiled noblewoman who fimds excitement, forbidden lust, and danger with Falco. But when Luca (one of the literary nice guys who is right up there with Peeta and Jem) comes back into her life, we see Cass start to question her emotions. And not only that, but we see her relationship with Falco for what it really is.
On GoodReads not too long ago, I read a review by Khanh (Destroyer of Dreams) that totally dismissed Cass as a damsel-in-distress, flaky heroine. Cass was that, no question, in Venom. But when Luca gets arrested in the first few pages of Belladonna, Cass develops a backbone and becomes a strong, independent young woman quite capable of looking after herself and breaking her fiancé out of prison.
Khanh berated Cass for messing around with Falco while Luca was in jail. I have to heartily disagree with her. Cass fell hard for Falco. Even though she was beginning to realise that Luca might just be the one for her, the intense emotions of first “love” don’t just disappear overnight. I think Cass handled the whole situation rather well. But not only this, we see her grow to realise the importance of stability, equality, and friendship in her relationship with Luca. All Cass really had with Falco was passion. And a break from the shackles of nobility.

We were all rooting for Luca, right? I mean, Falco was the biggest douche of all time. I honestly never understood his appeal. But then again, I’m not Cass.
I felt as though Cass was given an easy out after the fire at de Gradi’s workshop when [MASSIVE SPOILER] Falco died. I mean, that just meant Cass could go back to Luca, guilt free. No choice necessary. I think Ms Paul realised this because the ending was delicious, if a little melodramatic. No, I will not tell you what happens. I already gave one humungous spoiler. Don’t think you’re going to get another one.
In reading the Cass-Falco-Luca resolution, it brings to mind the Katniss-Peeta-Gale resolution in Mockingjay. If Gale hadn’t been such a massive part of the plan that killed Primrose, Katniss would have had to make a choice. Instead, she chose Peeta by default. Even though those two were perfect for each other, it still felt like Katniss was choosing Peeta simply because she could no longer look at Gale without seeing her baby sister. I so wanted Collins to come up with a better way for Katniss to make that choice. Peeta deserved better. But, I suppose, I just have to be happy with the fact that Ms Paul gave me a brilliant resolution. (The queen of love triangle resolutions will always be Cassandra Clare, however.)

There was a moment in Starling that really annoyed me. But, after some serious contemplation, I realise that Ms Paul actually managed to pull off a brilliant piece of characterisation, even though she risked alienating her audience.
Cass had reunited with her former handmaid Feliciana, Siena’s sister. If you remember correctly, Siena died tragically, yet heroically, at the end of Belladonna. They were on their way to a safe place where they could stop for a few moments when all of a sudden the two girls were ambushed in their gondola. We don’t know what happens to Feliciana, but Cass is abducted.
Sounds like a horrible twist of fate, right? But what we’ve been reading for pages and pages before this happens are these little snide comments made by Feliciana about how Cass never really cared for Siena and forced Siena to help Cass break Luca out of prison. What Feliciana never knew was that Siena was in love with Luca.

(And let’s just talk about that for a moment shall we? I don’t think I touched on this in my Belladonna review, but Cass knew all about Siena’s love for her fiancé. Cass could have easily gotten Siena fired, or been horrible to her for wanting something that was technically Cass’, but Cass never did that. Instead, Cass felt a kinship with Siena, because of Cass’ feelings for Falco. Cass could have been a cold-hearted noble, but instead chose compassion. I will always love Cass for that.)

So as I was reading about Cass’ abduction, I was absolutely positive that Feliciana had something to do with it. Feliciana was grieving and wanted to lash out at anyone she could to try and avenge Siena’s death. Thing was, Ms Paul had made it so bloody obvious that Feliciana was in on the whole “let’s-kidnap-Cass” plan. She even had Feliciana utter the words:

“Come with me. Let’s go someplace safe where we can be alone and talk.”

So. Freakin’. Obvious. This annoyed me right up until I closed the novel and set it aside. Then I started to think. Cass had lived an incredibly sheltered life as a noblewoman. She had never been betrayed by someone she had called a friend. She had never known cruelty at the hands of someone she, Cass,  had looked after. So, even though it may have been obvious to the reader that Feliciana was instrumental in Cass’ capture, Cass herself would not have put the pieces together. Simply because she was still innocent, and naïve, enough to believe that no one she knew could betray her to someone who wanted her dead.
You deserve a standing ovation for that tiny morsel Ms Paul.

Just one thing, before I start ranting and rambling. It’s something that has bugged me for the last two books in this trilogy. The idea that the blood of young girls can prolong youth was one that I just couldn’t comprehend. We are never given an explanation, probably because Cass would not have understood any of the scientific stuff she would have come across. We are just shown a woman who bathes in the blood of young Venetian (or Florentine) women who looks twenty-five, but is actually in her forties. I don’t think there’s any scientific proof that blood works like that. Even though I loved the story with all of its politics, intrigue, betrayal, and love, it was the whole idea of the preserving power of blood that felt a little off to me.
But maybe I should just accept The Secrets of the Eternal Rose for what it is: a story set in Renaissance Venice where science hadn’t quite gotten around to explaining everything yet.

★★★★

I’m going to miss you, Signorina Cassandra Caravello. And your husband too.

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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 “Starling” by Fiona Paul

  1. I only read the first bit of this post, because I saw a spoiler alert and I haven’t read Starling yet, or any of the books in The Secrets of the Eternal Rose Trilogy. But, in regards to exemplary character development, have you read The Chemical Gardens trilogy? The main character, Rhine, really gets put through the ringer through the trilogy and just gets better and better. I would highly recommend it!

    • Bec Graham says:

      Oohhh no I haven’t. Sounds interesting. What’s it about exactly? And I did put a massive spoiler in there, so it was probably best you skipped over it. 🙂

      • The Chemical Gardens trilogy is a dystopian about the world finding a genetic cure to basically any disease, but then the children of that generation that were given the cure all die. The girls at 20, the boys at 25. So basically the human race is dying out because the ones who do end up having kids before they die, then leave those kids parentless. So, the people left of the “original generation” (those who were cured), kind of start forcing kids to have babies so that they can try and find a kind of antidote so the human race doesn’t die out. The main character, Rhine, is kidnapped and forced to marry a young man, along with two other “sister-wives”.

        Sounds dark, and it kind of is, but it is so good! I promise!

      • Bec Graham says:

        Oh my God! Is it bad that I thought that sounded brilliant from the get-go. I got a bit of a feeling of His Dark Materials from that. Have you read it? The experiments done in that book were done on kids too. Not quite as disturbing though. Yep, sold. Will have to get it. God, so many books, so little time!!!!!

      • I haven’t read His Dark Materials yet! It is also on my TBR list. I am feeling your book-overload pain!

      • Bec Graham says:

        OMG you will LOVE it. I actually had to read Northern Lights for uni a few years ago. Luckily I had the 3-in-1 version! Will (yes, there’s another Will but you don’t meet him til book two) and Lyra are so adorable. But beautiful. Ohh I can’t wait for you to read it!!!

      • I’m excited! I have heard nothing but good things about it!

      • Bec Graham says:

        Some people say it’s too much the science v religion debate, but in all honesty the story is so enrapturing that I never picked that up. Well, not until someone pointed it out to me.

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