Secrets of Milan starts with Fiore and Maddie in a relationship crisis, with Maddie holding herself separate. This confused me for a short while because I’d thought their crisis over, but when Maddie quickly reveals the cause, it’s something new. Her concerns about Fiore putting herself in harm’s way when Maddie already grieved for her spouse are compelling and not the kind of fears easy to resolve.
We might learn why Maddie has withdrawn early, but this forms the bridging conflict, giving the pieces of the next mystery time to gather. Yes, we knew of the secret society by the end of the first book, but Maddie might not be the only target, nor does Fiore’s investigation go unnoticed.
The pursuit of the secret society consumes the entire book, offering a central plot which affects many aspects, including their relationship. I found it infected my own perspective, making me expect clues everywhere, much like Fiore does. I consider that a sign of how the text absorbed me.
However, this difficult search is not the only plot thread running. There’s a lot to keep the reader interested beyond tracking down the society by translating the ravings of a madman. Fiore’s position as tutor, Maddie’s work on the charity house, and even a bit of blackmail, exist within a rich tapestry. The series’ world has both social and economic aspects built on the firm grounding of known history.
This book goes further into the merchant guilds and the rules governing the different classes and genders. While accepted within their household, society frowns on the love between Maddie and Fiore both for their same gender and their difference in economic standing, adding another layer. Nor is this the only story occurring hidden from public view. Where Fiore had a singular focus in the first book, the Night Flyer cannot keep a simplistic view of her world forever.
One thread that could easily have become a distraction focuses on Benetto, the villain of the first book, and I worried he would return to that status. Instead, his path is much more complicated. Fiore gave him a second chance, but it’s not in his nature to see ruin as hope. I appreciated the depth in this thread and how Benetto had to struggle. The continuing shadow of the Night Flyer and his daughter’s unwavering love for Alessandro’s son, Antonio, kept this piece connected to the whole.
Antonio’s life as a soldier is laid out for the reader in all its contradictions. We rejoin him as part of the eager standard bearers struggling to train their first command. War is a lot of waiting and lack of conflict. This does not last long, though, and their introduction to the realities of war is daunting. The thread kept him in mind despite the distance and allowed us to see both sides of the second love story between him and Benetto’s daughter.
As with the first book, I enjoyed the interactions with the kids and experiencing Fiore’s teaching style. We are as much her pupils as the children whether for points of science or history. The book is still a little heavier on the description than I prefer, but whenever it dipped into these areas, I was enthralled. A good example of this is the technical description of how a harpsichord functions as a mechanized combination of string and percussion. Nor did I skim over the visits to places I have never seen with my own eyes, taking in the detail as though I were there with them.
There’s much more I would like to mention but can’t for fear of spoiling something. For a middle book, this is all but a standalone novel. The main crisis reaches a satisfying, and surprising, conclusion while still leaving more for the series to explore. The love story between Fiore and Maddie continues to develop with intimate but not detailed scenes. This book is an honest sequel to the first, extending what happened there in interesting and unexpected ways. I’d guessed some pieces but not the whole, making me a part of the journey rather than an observer.
P.S. I received this Advanced Reader Copy from the blog tour company Other Worlds Inc in return for an honest review.
Edale is giving away a $20 Amazon gift card with this tour – enter via Rafflecopter:a Rafflecopter giveaway