Zivon Marin was one of Russia's top cryptographers, until the October Revolution tore apart his world. Forced to flee after speaking out against Lenin and separated from his brother along the way, he arrives in England driven by a growing anger and determined to offer his services to the Brits.
Lily Blackwell sees the world best through the lens of a camera--and possesses unsurpassed skill when it comes to retouching and recreating photographs. With her father's connections in propaganda, she's recruited to the intelligence division, even though her mother would disapprove.
After Captain Blackwell invites Zivon to dinner one evening, a friendship blooms between him and Lily. He sees patterns in what she deems chaos; she sees beauty in a world he thought destroyed. But both have secrets they're unwilling to share. When her photographs reveal that someone has been following Zivon, his loyalties are called into question--and his enemies are discovered to be far closer than he'd feared.
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You'll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which will mean some spoilers, so watch out.
So...this review was supposed to have been posted a month ago. I was supposed to have received my copy of this book a month ago, read it a month ago, and then put my thoughts into not-quite-coherent words a month ago. But due to the world's current state of affairs and my own sluggishness (can't blame the fact that it took me three whole days to read this stinkin' thing on anyone but moi), I've had to wait until nearly the end of September to get this baby out here.
So let's make it worth the wait, shall we?
I've read all but one of Roseanna M. White's books--seven of them twice, six of which I got from the library, and the rest are all warm and cozy on my bookshelf, where I read over some of my favorite parts from time to time--so I'd consider myself a White expert. And as an expert who has taken to expressing some serious opinions concerning this series, The Codebreakers, it is only customary that I continue to do so and impart upon the rest of society my wisdom, so to speak.
In other words, hold on to your hats. I'll try and keep this short, but I make no guarantees.
Roseanna M. White has only written three "bad" books--as in, different from the rest of hers and not necessarily in a good way. Jewel of Persia and Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland (also know as, A Heart's Revolution). Jewel of Persia was, to me, a little too much, all on top of an already beautiful true story of Queen Esther. Maybe I just like to think that Xerses eventually came to love Esther, so the idea of there being a concubine preferred over her rubs me the wrong way...or maybe it just wasn't her best work. And then A Heart's Revolution (I read it as part of the Love Finds You series, but AHR is shorter to write) was simply much, much different than her usual stories, so it didn't mesh well with me. (Not that I'm writing reviews of those books, so maybe I should move on.)
Wait--that was only two books, wasn't it? I'd said three.
A Portrait of Loyalty is #3.
Now, understand that none of this is objective. Objectively, it was a good book--great, even. White's melodic prose, with its rhythmic cadence and even pacing, is still there, as it has constantly been within her last two series, meshing well with the historical, the factual, and the mysterious of her thieves/spies and codebreakers.
Her attention to detail, her balance between action and emotion, dialogue and narrative, and her historical knowledge (never overboard, always just enough) remains.
But her humor and wit?
The drama and action and conflict this story so needed?
The depth these characters seemed to have?
Let me back up a bit. Back to the very beginning, with Margot and Drake.
I didn't have all good things to say about them, you know. They were missing some sparks of their own. Margot was missing the character arc and deep change I'd expected (even though, as a young child in A Song Unheard, she hadn't needed much change). Drake was missing a great deal of characterization that would have differentiated him from Thad and Brice and Barclay and Samuel and Justin and every other strong, godly, and charming hero White has turned out.
But then Cam came along. Cam, with his churning blue eyes as deep as the sea and just as treacherous. Cam, with his PTSD, which I'm very sensitive about, since it's in the family. Cam, with his conflicting persona of rakish gentleman and tortured villain. Cam, with his beautiful heart and his eye for the same. Cam, with his...him. And Ara, who was all the good, perfect, light, and happy strength all the Christian heroines possess nowadays--with a vulnerability and a flawed spirit that kept her from becoming a regular Mary Sue. I mean, they--and their story--wasn't perfect. No book, no character, no person is, but they more than made up for Margot and Drake, even if they didn't have a lot of plot or action.
Which brings me to Zivon Marin (whose name is just as Hebrew and Latin as it is Slavic, if not more so...yes, I looked it up) and Lillian Blackwell.
Ziv, with his routine and his steady outlook on life, was supposed to be the mysterious, intriguing Russian codebreaker. And Lily, with her passion for photography and her eye for beauty in the midst of chaos, was supposed to be his polar opposite. They, because of their opposing personalities, should have had some serious chemistry.
They didn't. They kissed once, of course. And, you know, did all the love-declaring and proposing that you're supposed to do to ensure a happy ending. But as for an actual romance?
So, from the point of view of, say, historical fiction, this was a great book.
If you wanted to throw in drama, suspense, intrigue, mystery, etc., then you'd be disappointed. It was almost as if White were trying to write something more character-driven and skimp on the plot--which worked terrifically for Cam and Ara in On Wings of Devotion--but when you're an amazing suspense/intrigue writer who can someone manage to marry wit and sparks with action and mystery (like in the Ladies of the Manor series), you can't just abandon what works! Not when it works so well!
Plus N and E (names have been changed for protection), the anti-heroes (since they weren't really villains, not when they got an ending just as happy as Ziv and Lily's), were pretty cliché, N in particular, since White's already has Deirdre, Kira--who makes an appearance in APoL--Diezlla, Dara, Caelia, Catherine, and plenty other female antagonists throughout her many stories.
This isn't a codebreaking book, a spy book, a WW1 book, a romance book, a mystery book, an intrigue book, or really anything other than simply a historical. Sure, there were a lot of opportunities for more codebreaking, spy, romancing, mystery-solving, etc., but not that much really it happened. It was kind of short, actually. Straightforward. To-the-point. Not quite boring, because it wasn't boring and things really did happen. (Like certain characters dying, for instance.)
Plus, for this to have been the end of the series, there was no goodbye. No wedding for Cam and Ara. No sweet epilogue where we get to see if Margot and Drake had any kids--which I highly doubt, seeing as how Margot intends to be career woman. Even the Shadows Over England series, which spilled over into this one, got more of a happy ending/extended epilogue/bittersweet goodbye. And maybe White does have more planned for this series--and a certain Remington Culbreth, I hope--in the future. But that still doesn't mean that a reader like myself won't walk away sobbing from this story.
Especially considering there was only so much of Camden. *wails loudly* I love you, Cam! You'll always have my heart!
Zivon and Lily didn't even have as much depth and characterization as I'd hoped. I think, truly, that it was because White focused so much on one aspect of their lives that there wasn't enough time, really, to fully flesh out their other features. And, of course, one can't blame all of this upon the author. A book undergoes serious rewriting, editing, reediting, and editorial criticism. There are also a great deal of constrictions--like time and word-count--that prevent all those scenes of chemistry and depth and intensity that everyone (even the author) really want.
Okay. So maybe at this point you're wondering "All right, Grace. So you've beat the story into a pulp because of a whole bunch of nonsensical, subjective reason. Why does it still get four stars, and when are you going to convince me of whether or not it's a good book?"
Yeah...I'm kind of wondering the same thing too, so I guess this is where I go with the whole "art is subjective" thing and remind y'all that not everyone likes the same things. I like passion. I like sparks. I like brooding, rakish heroes who also have a strange tendency to do the right thing. I like wit. I like humor. I like fistfights and swordfights and gunfights and action. I like drama and mystery and intrigue. I like characters who are so real that I cry for them and pray for them and laugh at them and call them idiots.
I've gotten those things from Roseanna many times before--like with Cayton and Ella and Samuel and Zip and Camden and Ara--and so maybe you will too.
So I'm not comparing this book to other books in general, other books in this genre, or other books by different authors. I'm simply comparing it to Roseanna's other work and saying that, yeah, it wasn't her best. Some people do think so. Me, I don't. It was still good--Roseanna really can't write a "bad" book, you know. Can anyone, with subjectivity in play? But it wasn't her best. Four stars for being Roseanna and for being so well-written. Only, not five stars because it didn't have the excitement and the enticement that I've come to expect from Roseanna M. White.
That being said, I DO very much look forward to her next release, Dreams of Savannah, which promises a rather interesting Civil War story. Granted, I'm very picky about my Civil War stories...so, I make no promises! 😉
Long story short, as a historical novel, A Portrait of Loyalty is certainly a choice book. White's beautiful prose and balanced writing shines, as always. Her research is impeccable, her depictions realistic. However, A Portrait of Loyalty is lacking in White's signature wit, sparks, and suspense--the things that have made her novels so enjoyable in the past. This story is still as good as any, but certainly not my favorite. We all know who my favorite is! 😁
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
Roseanna M. White is a bestselling, Christy Award nominated author who has long claimed that words are the air she breathes. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two kids, editing, designing book covers, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of a slew of historical novels that span several continents and thousands of years. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to find their way into her books…to offset her real life, which is blessedly ordinary. You can learn more about her and her stories at www.RoseannaMWhite.com.
Read my review of the previous Codebreakers book, On Wings of Devotion, here: https://novelist056.wixsite.com/graceajohnson/post/on-wings-of-devotion-review