I loved Hotel of Secrets and now I want to go read Diana Biller’s backlist. I was anxious going in to this romance because I haven’t enjoyed a straight historical romance in forever, but it quickly won me over. I liked it so much I’ve actually preordered a signed copy from an independent bookstore.
Hotel of Secrets is set in Vienna just as 1878 begins. While the jostling among empires (Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Ottoman) and the rise of national identities isn’t a focus, it does creep in at the edges and provide a background of intrigue. I found the complete absence of the British refreshing. This period of history is rich with conflict and intrigue, but far enough from the devastation of World War 1 that it’s a smudge on the horizon, not a looming tragedy.
Maria and Eli are wonderful main characters. I love watching very competent people fall in love despite themselves. Maria manages the Hotel Wallner, which has been in her family since an emperor gave it to her great grandmother – his mistress and mother of his natural daughter. Eli is a US Treasury agent sent “undercover” to find out who is selling codes. (Also refreshing, no one except Eli cares about the US). For reasons, Eli considers Hotel Wallner a lead, so he is staying there to further his investigation.
I will confess that as much as I enjoyed everything about this book, Eli is my favorite. His stern daddy vibes are so strong he can’t be called a Stern Brunch Daddy. He would only go to brunch if he had a specific undercover task or to make Maria happy. Otherwise brunch is a frivolous meal that involves socializing and loitering. He is buttoned up, ethical, and a virgin. Once he ticks Maria off his suspect list, he takes on the task of protecting her (someone is trying to kill her). But the main reason I love Eli – he does his research. When he needs to learn a language he finds someone to teach him. When he needs to learn about a religion, he gets a book. I love the sex lessons mini-trope and in Hotel of Secrets you get sex lessons with a pupil who has done the reading in advance. I love a character who, when confronted with things he doesn’t know, educates himself.
Maria is her own wonderful character. She has the practical creativity of someone who has had to do a lot with a little for a long time. The love of her life is Hotel Wallner. Restoring the Hotel to its former glory is her primary objective and she knows who she can and cannot count on for help and support. Her attraction to Eli is immediate, but her liking and love for Eli grows as she finds in him a fellow competent person who solves the problems around them. I loved that Biller gives us a woman who knows who she is and what she wants and pursues it with her whole heart.
I don’t know if this is a stand alone or the start of a series. I would read this as a series, even if it was just Maria and Eli learning things and solving crimes. Though there is no indication that Maria or Eli are queer, the book is very queer friendly.
CW: abusive and neglectful fathers, attempted murder in past and on page, murder in past (self-defense) and on page, animal attack (no animals harmed), complicated and toxic families, political intrigue.
I received this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.