Against an intriguing backdrop of the historical congress of nations that met to divvy up Europe after Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat, Burgis (Masks and Shadows, 2016) sets a tenacious survivor against a magic-wielding emperor of Austria.
Karolina Vogl has not been back to Vienna for many years—not since the imprisonment of her printer father by the state's secret police and her own imprisonment by the emperor's adviser, a cruel alchemist. In the two decades since, Karolina has married (twice) and is now Lady Caroline Wyndham of England. She returns to Vienna seeking her father's freedom—but Count Pergen and Emperor Francis are not the only figures of her past around. Michael Steinhüller, her childhood friend whom she blames for abandoning her, has become a dashing con man with his own plot to profit from Europe's political upheaval—claiming a false crown, in hopes of snagging reparations. Aided by meticulously researched historical figures such as Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and the seventh Prince de Ligne, Michael plays international politics and Caroline schemes to get close to Emperor Francis...but when Caroline is betrayed, she must face the frightening (if somewhat nebulous) alchemy and sinister men that terrorized her as a girl. She must also confront her own trust issues, as a childhood crush on Michael blooms into more during their forced alliance. Though it's refreshing for our romantic leads to be in their mid-30s, with cynicism aplenty for both, Caroline's legitimate traumas boil away at the first heated kiss, placing us back into rather clichéd territory.
While everything wraps up a bit too neatly—with a literally theatrical climax—Burgis paints an engaging cast and has a fine eye for the details of 1814 Vienna. History buffs will find this to be a tasty, if airy, bit of strudel.