Sequel to The Widow of Rose House
Heat Factor: There’s a flame, but it’s more docile wood stove than raging inferno.
Character Chemistry: They really like each other, but are holding back.
Plot: Amelie has made a safe life for herself and her younger sister—and then Benedict comes back to Paris after twelve years away.
Overall: I really liked this book. A lot.
I know that I’ve read a book that I really enjoyed when I don’t highlight anything while I’m reading—it’s a sign that I’ve had an immersive reading experience. That’s what happened here, so I know that I liked this book. However. My lack of notes does make it more challenging to write a review with some substance to it, but I’ll try my best.
The blurb for The Brightest Star in Paris refers to “the ghosts of [Amelie’s] past who come back to haunt her.” So the first thing that you should know in deciding whether this book is for you is that we are talking about literal ghosts here. There are figurative ghosts as well, but a central impetus for the romance plot is that Amelie has started seeing ghosts, and Benedict’s brother is a renowned ghost hunter. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped on the floor when the ghosts first appeared, I was so surprised, but I really shouldn’t have been, because the ghost in The Widow of Rose House was real as well.
In the first half of the book, Biller repeatedly ratchets up the tension—this section of the book reads like an atmospheric Gothic romance. Amelie spends a lot of time backstage in the newly constructed Palais Garnier, which is full of frenetic activity as dancers and costumers and stagehands get ready for performances.
But there’s an overlay of dread, caused by the aforementioned ghosts, Amelie’s secret hip injury, a lord who hangs out at the opera house with whom Amelie definitely has a history, and the background of a decade of turmoil in Paris. (This book is set in Paris 1878, so the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune of 1870–1871 are still shaping the lives of Amelie and her compatriots.) Amelie and her ghosts are processing a lot of trauma, so please be forewarned that there’s some serious shit that has gone down. (Diana Biller has a full list of content warnings on her website.)
What I liked about this portion of the book is that it’s so historically rich. I loved reading a historical romance set in Paris, especially with all the details that Biller included. The romance unfolds quietly against this backdrop, as Benedict and Amelie slowly start spending time together as they work to uncover the mystery of Amelie’s haunting. They are technically pretending to be courting—Amelie gets a lot of press attention—but I would not call this a full-on fake relationship romance.
There is a pretty abrupt tonal shift about halfway through the book. After a Big Climactic Moment, Amelie goes to stay with Benedict’s family for a few weeks. And Benedict’s family are all loving chaos monsters, so the gothic dread that had been building for the first half dissipates. The ghosts who are haunting Amelie fade into the background, and the story focuses more on Amelie’s emotional healing and on the relationship between Amelie and Benedict.
While the romance between Amelie and Benedict is decent, the real star of this book is Amelie. I cared a lot more about her journey toward healing than I did Benedict’s—probably because her journey is a lot more interesting, given that it’s so tightly bound up in history and class and art and family. Plus, she’s the one who has the ghosts.
A final note: the ending is perfect. Biller ties everything together brilliantly, and brings Amelie and Benedict to their happy ending without Benedict saving Amelie. Just really lovely and cathartic.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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