The new year is barely into its first chapter, but I’m delighted to announce that tomorrow kicks off my first new release of 2011. (I hope you will all polish up your reading spectacles because you’ll be seeing a lot from me in the coming months—including a Big Announcement as we head into April) Yes, I’m popping the bubbly for To Tempt A Rake, but it’s also a tiny bit sad because as I toast the pristine new pages that are hot off the presses, I am also closing the final chapter on my “Circle of Sin” trilogy.
Hail & Farewell
It’s particularly hard to say goodbye to the hero, Marco, He actually came to life in my Andrea Pickens “Spy” trilogy and had a lot of fun raising hell in those books. Indeed, he was such a swashbuckling character that I couldn’t resist introducing him to the circle of my scientific women when I started my current Cara Elliott series. (Some of you may already know that he tuned out to be Alessandra’s cousin . . . something that took me by surprise. ) Well, he finally got tired of playing a secondary role and demanded his own book. So it was a Good Thing that Kate, the hellion of the Circle, was worldly enough and gritty enough match his devil-may-care bravado.
Given that they are adventurous and international (Kate is half American and Marco is all Italian) I decided to set part of their story outside of England. They are caught up in a deadly web of Continental intrigue when a foreign diplomat is murdered at a country house party, and Kate finds herself the prime suspect. Marco suspects she is hiding a dark secret, but has his own clandestine reasons for offering to help prove her innocence. And so their investigation leads them from England to Austria, and the famous Congress of Vienna, which convened in the fall of 1814 in order to reorganize Europe after Napoleon’s exile to Elba . . .
But enough of my fictional story—let’s take a quick look at one of the influential—and fascinating—gatherings of the 19th century.
A Waltz To Remember
The Congress of Vienna was also meant to be a grand ending of sorts—the rulers and diplomats from all over Europe were looking to close the book on the strife and upheavals of the Napoleonic Wars and begin a new chapter of world peace. (In many ways, it was the precursor to the United Nations.) Countless books have been written on the complex negotiations and their ramifications (Henry Kissinger wrote his PhD thesis on the Congress) so I won’t attempt to delve into its nuances. Suffice it to say, it was an extraordinary attempt to consider a vast range of issues, both political and social, and to structure a “balance of power” to ensure that there would not be another world war.
Politics and Parties
Some of the major issues had to do with East Europe—what to do with the various pieces of Poland that had been carved up during the wars; how to deal with Saxony and Prussia; how to keep Russia from becoming too powerful. And then there was the rising nationalism in the Italian peninsula and the Balkans to consider. All these questions of borders and national identity were incredibly important, of course. But what I found fascinating was that the leaders of Europe also understood that issues such as religious freedom, free press and individual rights were very critical in establishing stability and peace throughout the regions. And so there were delegations not just from countries, but from “special interest” groups (much like our modern day lobbyists) ranging from prominent Jewish leaders and anti–slavery organizations to a group of publishers who wanted laws passed to protect intellectual property!
Making Peace . . .and Love
Now, as you might know from my previous posts, I love doing research on little arcane details about an era, as well as the “big” picture. For me, those things—the fashion and furnishings, the people and places or the arts and ideas—are what help make a story come alive.
Well, trust me, there probably wasn’t a more “alive” spot
on the planet than Vienna during that time. Yes, the emperors, kings, princes, margraves, powerful government ministers and their entourages had come to the Austrian capital to make peace . . . but they had also come to make love (not necessarily in that order!) In other words, they had come not just to work but to play! And play they did! Glittering balls, sumptuous banquets, fanciful medieval jousts, spectacular fireworks—the daily list of extravagant entertainments for the participants was mind-boggling. (Ah well, what better way to end my trilogy than to go out with a bang. Quite literally!)
The cast of colorful real-life characters at the Congress of Vienna makes fiction appear, well, awfully tame. Prince Metternich, the powerful Austrian Foreign Minister who was a guiding force of the Congress of Vienna, was a savvy negotiator, a polished diplomat—and a rakish lady’s man. He was madly in love with the Duchess of Sagan, who had come to the city in order to court favor with the Tsar of Russia . . . (warning: get out your notebooks, for the tangle of love affairs and dalliances gets quite complicated.) Alas, poor Metternich. He spent much of his time writing passionate love letters to the Duchess when he should have been reading treaties and aligning borders . . . a fact that his canny rivals took advantage of.
Prince Talleyrand, the worldly and sybaritic French Foreign Minister, was perhaps the most brilliant—and cunning—statesman of the era. The consummate survivor, he had served King Louis XVI, the radical Revolutionary government and Napoleon (who called him ‘shit in silk stockings’ after the prince betrayed him in secret negotiations with the Allies in ’08.) Called by some le diable boiteux because of a congenital limp, Talleyrand loved the finer things in life (he always dressed in the elegantly old-fashioned velvet-and-lace style of the previous century) and brought the famous chef Antoine Careme with him to Vienna, not only for his own pleasure but to butter up potential supporters of French interests over the sumptuous dinners and desserts. (At one point he wrote to Paris and wryly said he needed more saucepans, not more secretaries.)
And then there was Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Charismatic, complex and mercurial, Alexander was determined to make Russia a force to be reckoned with on the European stage. It seems he was also determined to seduce every female within arm’s reach. One of my favorite anecdotes involves him seeing the wife of a prominent diplomat at a party. As she was alone, he sidled up and asked if he could occupy her husband’s place for the evening—to which she replied coolly, “Does Your Majesty take me for a province?” In addition to the opposite sex, Alexander also loved the rich food and wines of Vienna—he had to have a whole new wardrobe sent from St. Petersburg because he gained so much weight partying every night!
And the Ladies Who Loved Them
The ladies were equally interesting. A noted beauty, the Duchess of Sagan attracted an impressive array of influential men to her weekly salons. As did her rival, Princess Bagration, a Russian who was known as the Naked Angel of the North because she wore only white muslin, well damped to cling to her shapely curves. The Duchess’s younger sister Dorothee—who was Talleyrand’s niece by marriage—served as the prince’s hostess, stirring rumors as to what else was cooking inside the Kaunitz Palace beside Careme's delicious desserts . . .
And I haven’t even begun to talk about the parties, but I’m running out of space! (My favorite is the Carousel, a recreation of a medieval joust which took place in the indoor arena of the famed Spanish Riding School. However, I promise you will hear about that at a later date!)
So, to end this, let me ask a question that brings us back to books. How do you feel about linked books? Are you sad to see a series end after three books? (trilogies seem to be the favorite number with publishers these days) Or are you just as happy to move on to new things? I confess to being a big fan of some long-running series, like the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters. Have you any favorites? I’ll be giving away a copy of To Tempt A Rake to one lucky person who leaves a comment here between now and Tuesday night. So be sure to chime in!