“A Forgery of Roses” by Jessica S. Olson (Review)

Olson, Jessica S. A Forgery of Roses. Toronto, Ontario: Inkyard Press, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1335418661 | $19.99 USD | 377 pages | YA Fantasy 

Blurb

From the author of Sing Me Forgotten comes a lush new fantasy novel with an art-based magic system, romance, and murder…

 Myra has a gift many would kidnap, blackmail, and worse to control: she’s a portrait artist whose paintings alter people’s bodies. 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.

Once she arrives at the legendary stone mansion, however, it becomes clear the boy’s death was no accident. A killer stalks these halls–one disturbingly obsessed with portrait magic. Desperate to get out of the manor as quickly as possible, Myra turns to the governor’s older son for help completing the painting before the secret she spent her life concealing makes her the killer’s next victim.

Review

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. Review is based on the final copy. 

I enjoyed Jessica Olson’s prior book, and A Forgery of Roses sounded equally interesting. I don’t know that I enjoyed it as much as her debut, but this one was a lot of fun too. 

The first thing that stood out to me was the art-based magic system, and I love how Olson takes these other art forms and weaves them into her writing and magic systems. In Sing Me Forgotten, it was music, and in this one it’s art. The concept of being able to alter physical appearances through painting is a fascinating, if potentially dangerous power, and I love the way it’s explored in the book. 

It also sets Myra apart from her society, where she has to hide her abilities, lest she be ostracized. The fear of othering for magical abilities is a common trope, but Olson makes it her own. Add to this the challenges of caring for her disabled sister, and she starts the book as an incredibly relatable protagonist, and in a position to be tempted by an offer to use her powers if she gains financial security. I also appreciate that while the sister isn’t the main character, and her care serves as motivation for Myra, she’s portrayed fairly positively, with a balance between acknowledgment of the reality they live in and not making it about pity or tragedy. 

The plot and pacing remain fairly steady throughout, with pretty consistent intrigue and twists. 

I ultimately enjoyed the romance that develops between Myra and August, and his characterization also focuses on another aspect of disability in terms of mental health and anxiety rep, which I also felt was pretty well done.

My one complaint is that for a book that is so heavy on promoting visual art through its magic, you don’t have a real visual sense of place. It feels vaguely set in the past, as it appeals to the classic Gothic literature aesthetics. However, there’s few indicators of the lay of the land or whether this is set in another world or some incarnation of ours. 

I enjoyed this book overall, in spite of those small flaws. If you’re looking for a YA fantasy read with a unique magic system that’s light on the world building, but has a decent amount of intrigue and character depth, this one is worth checking out. 

Author Bio

Jessica S. Olson claims New Hampshire as her home but has somehow found herself in Texas, where she spends most of her time singing praises to the inventor of the air conditioner. When she’s not hiding from the heat, she’s corralling her four wild—but adorable—children, dreaming up stories about kissing and murder and magic, and eating peanut butter. T the spoonful straight from the jar. She earned a bachelor’s in English with minors in editing and French, which essentially means she spent all of her university time reading and eating French pastries. She is the author of Sing Me Forgotten (2021) and A Forgery of Roses (2022).

Website

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