Book Review: A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson

This book was on my list of most anticipated 2022 releases, I got it as a birthday present last August, and I finally got around to reading it last month when my fiancé said I needed to read something for fun to break up my for-work reading. (He was right.) A Forgery of Roses was a good choice for the purpose!

What is A Forgery of Roses about?

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.


Rating: 4.5 stars

A Forgery of Roses was a pleasant surprise. While it was on my “most anticipated releases of 2022” list, I’d been disappointed by enough mainstream books (and enough mainstream books off of my 2022 list) to be cautious in my optimism.

Let’s start with my biggest initial concern: When I picked up this book, I wasn’t sure how far the romance would go. I was hoping based on reviews that it would stay tame, but it was of a genre and had such language in the blurb that I wasn’t sure if that was a trustworthy expectation or if I would have a paragraph or two to skip. Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about! The most graphic A Forgery of Roses gets in the romance department is one particularly detailed kiss.

I was surprised by the level of violence/gore, however. While it wasn’t quite beyond my tolerance, A Forgery of Roses does have more horror elements than the blurb suggests. Once I realized that, I could adjust and enjoy it for the way it was written, but I want to include that as the warning I didn’t get, lol.

Content out of the way, let’s start with the world in terms of story elements. The magic system in this book is really neat. I love arts-based magic systems, and Olson delivered what she promised! I would love to see more exploring this world and maybe some variations on what we get to see in A Forgery of Roses. (See spoilers in my Goodreads review where I could hide them, lol.)

The characters were all great! Myra was a compelling protagonist, not too proud to ask for help, and driven by loyalty to her sister. (Strong family ties. I love to see them.)

August was also awesome, well-rounded and charming. His struggle was believable, as was his relationship with Myra. Overall I thought his anxiety was handled well, though the theme of “your anxiety doesn’t need to be fixed” was maybe a little heavy-handed. I would have liked a bit more nuance, showing that mental illness doesn’t make you less-than and does lend its strengths, but it is still an illness and it’s not wrong to try to “fix” it or wish it weren’t a struggle.

Now, I did think that Lucy was written wonderfully. She was determined, disciplined, mature for her age by necessity and yet still possessing a childlike innocence. Her chronic illness is handled exactly the way I wish August’s mental illness had been. Her strengths are not overlooked, she is valued, and the drive and strength that has come from her illness is highlighted, but the difficulty and wrongness of her illness is also acknowledged and she and Myra are both happy to seek ways to heal her.
As someone whose best friend is studying to be a doctor and whose mom has a chronic illness and does tons of medical research, I would be remiss not to also mention that Lucy’s interest in medicine was both really cool and very fitting for the context of her character.

Victor was compelling, also, and I didn’t totally hate the brief love triangle in there. It read as a realistic conflict, it didn’t take up too much space, and it was excellently tied in with the main plot.

Overall, a great read!

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