A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson
Myra Whitlock has a gift. One many would kill for.
She’s an artist whose portraits alter people’s real-life bodies, a talent she must hide from those who would kidnap, blackmail, and worse in order to control it. Guarding that secret is the only way to keep her younger sister safe now that their parents are gone.
But one frigid night, the governor’s wife discovers the truth and threatens to expose Myra if she does not complete a special portrait that would resurrect the governor’s dead son. Desperate, Myra ventures to his legendary stone mansion.
Once she arrives, however, it becomes clear the boy’s death was no accident. Someone dangerous lurks within these glittering halls. Someone harboring a disturbing obsession with portrait magic.
Myra cannot do the painting until she knows what really happened, so she turns to the governor’s older son, a captivating redheaded poet. Together, they delve into the family’s most shadowed affairs, racing to uncover the truth before the secret Myra spent her life concealing makes her the killer’s next victim.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED MARCH 29TH, 2022
In Myra’s world, portraiture is an art drowning in conflict.
For some, it’s a means of expression and beauty. For others, like the governor, it represents heresy, a mockery of the Artist who shaped the world.
And for Myra, it’s nothing but dangerous, since her magic flares most strongly while she paints. It’s a reality-altering magic, one that allows her to change physical features of her subject, and if anyone knew, it would make her a target for scorn. Or worse.
When the governor’s wife discovers Myra’s secret magic, though, it’s Myra’s only chance to secure a better future for herself and her sister, Lucy, even if it puts her dangerously close a powerful man who would condemn her very existence. Even if it means doing the impossible, and painting the dead back to life.
In only a few days, Myra must unravel the shadowy history in the governor’s halls. If she fails to paint a portrait of the governor’s dead son, fails to paint him back to life, she faces exposure to the governor and his unrelenting wrath. That is, of course, unless her gift makes her a target for other powers instead.
“Trust is a luxury for the wealthy, the secure, the loved. Not for us.”
I loved Myra from the very start, and no one should be surprised. After all, she’s the older sibling, working hard to protect her little sister from the harsh edges of the life they lead. The disappearance of their parents left them without financial support, and the illness that plagues Lucy has steadily drained their remaining funds. Only by working in an artist’s studio does Myra bring home enough to keep a roof over their heads, some food on the table, and a nurse to assist Lucy in the worst bouts of illness.
But it isn’t enough. Lucy grows weaker by the day, her flare-ups increasing in brutal strength, and Myra can’t be around to support her, working as she is so often just to keep them from living on the streets. Everything she does, she does to protect her sister, keep her safe from the very worst that life has to offer. Accepting Mrs. Harris’s terrifying request to paint her son back to life isn’t just about keeping her magic a secret, because for Myra, it’s a chance to at last afford treatment options her sister could never pursue, even when their parents were still alive. The Whitlocks are poor now, and the only way to receive care and support is to have money, money that the Harris family is offering, even though it comes with impossible conditions.
What can I say? I have a soft spot for protective sibling characters. They mean everything in the world to me, and more than that, I love reading about sibling bonds that practically glow with love and trust. Sure, siblings in conflict adds some spice, but siblings teaming up, tackling a problem together? I love it, I really do!
A Forgery of Roses also blends fantasy with murder mystery in a deeply satisfying way.
Myra’s magic and the concept of Prodigies who can alter the world as they paint is fascinating in its own right. I mean, that’s an incredible power to wield, even with the drawbacks that temper it. But if that hadn’t hooked me, the murder mystery element would. Painting the governor’s son back to life can’t be done until Myra knows just how he died, and if the Harrises won’t talk, she’ll have to do some digging of her own.
She has help from the less popular Harris son, and together, they tiptoe their way through gloom and family secrets, desperate to find answers before it’s too late, but always in danger of getting caught. The governor’s mansion looms over them both as well, half empty and twisting with shadows. Altogether, it makes for a beautifully gothic feeling to A Forgery of Roses. Sprinkle in a winter chill and the ever present threat of death, and that gothic element only grows stronger.
Who am I to complain, really? This book gave me the joy of trying to solve a mystery before the main characters do, and the rich atmosphere that so often draws me to gothic novels. I can’t ask for a whole lot more than that!
This book is for readers who like a little danger lurking in the shadows, and a glimmer of hope in their magic.
Plus, it’s also got chronic illness rep through Lucy, and anxiety rep through August Harris, which were wonderful to see included. Even more wonderful is that they weren’t seen as something to get rid of or cure, but something that has shaped Lucy and August’s lives for better or for worse. Their arcs are more about learning how to live well with their disabilities while also minimizing the symptoms that do real harm (like Lucy logging which foods cause violent intestinal distress to avoid triggering a painful episode of her illness).
I have to recommend this brilliant little standalone across the board, and it’s my hope that if you pick it up, you’ll enjoy it just as much as I have! 🌹
CW: loss of a loved one, ableism, gore, graphic injury, miscarriage, child death