A Portrait in Shadow by Nicole Jarvis

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A Portrait in Shadow by Nicole Jarvis

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Olivia Tierney
Reviewed by Olivia Tierney
Summary: Set against the backdrop of the sumptuous world of 17th century Florence, A Portrait of Shadow explores the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, a talented artist capable of weaving magic and art together. With a smooth, seamless plot and gorgeous scenes and writing, Jarvis' latest novel is intriguing and mesmerising, layered with shadows and beauty.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: May 2023
Publisher: Titan Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1803362340

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I want all of Florence to know my name

Cast out from Rome, Artemisia Gentileschi arrives in Florence seeking an oasis in which her art can find a home and where her future can thrive rather than stagnate. But as some as she enters Florentine society she faces great opposition from the powerful Accademia, the self-proclaimed guardians of the healing magics that through paintings have the power to protect the city and its citizens from plagues and curses. The all-male Accademia has hoarded power over art and architecture for centuries and guard it above all else. To them, Artemisia – an ambitious young woman who promises trouble and change – has no place amongst them and their society.

Undeterred, alone, Artemesia fights for every commission and every connection, slowly but surely winning allies among others artists as well as the wealthy and powerful Medici family. However, news from Rome – from her infamous rape trial – threatens to derail her from all she worked towards, enticing her away from healing magics and towards dark vengeful magics.

When a preacher hell bent on destroying Florence's art world, Artemisia becomes the target of his anger. As he works to tear her reputation apart and isolate her from society, Artemisia must decide how she will paint her future. Will she choose to build a legacy based on creating beauty or will she choose to enact revenge on all those that have sought to wrong her?

One of the best aspects of A Portrait in Shadow is the incredible strength of its main character. Whatever obstacles she encounters – to her ambition to become a renowned master painter, to her desire to leave the past behind her, to make a name for herself – Artemisia does so without doubt or self-pity. She is bold and determined, rising up to every challenge and every hostility that is thrown at her. It is a delight to follow her story and experience heartbreak and love, victory and defeat, hope and wonder as if it is the reader's own. Through her, we are enticed into the debate of what art truly should be and who in fact it is for.

The concept of infusing works of art with healing magic threaded into history is well orchestrated adding layers of depth to the story that ensures the other aspects shine. It is a wonderful element that enriches rather than detracts from the novel's historical foundations.

Through Jarvis' writing – detailed in its description of place, thoughts and feelings – 17th century Florence and all its twisting cobbled alleyways and decadence comes alive. With each chapter more and more of the romantic artistic city is discovered and lovingly explored. It is a true delight to see different aspects of the city from the poverty-stricken corners of the city to the opulence of the Sistine Chapel and the Palace belonging to the infamous Medici family.

If you have always longed to go to Florence, or are seeking inspiration for your next adventure or would love to reminisce on Italian memories, A Portrait in Shadow is a perfect book for you. With a plot that carries you along without letting you go, it's a fantastic summer read that will transport you into another world (one I can assure you, you will not want to leave in a hurry!).

Many thanks to the publishers for providing the Bookbag with a copy to review!

With an unpredictable plot, characters that are vividly painted and exquisite writing, reading A Portrait in Shadow is as enchanting as walking through a dream. There is a lot to love with Jarvis' second novel and we would urge you to pick it up and take a risk – you will not be disappointed.

In terms of further reading, those who are seeking an equally gripping historical read revolving around themes of power, feminism and magic, should look no further than Atalanta by Jennifer Saints – a phenomenal retelling of a defiance female warrior whose story – much akin to Artemisia Gentileschi's - has always been overshadowed by others.

If however, you are looking for writing as beautiful as A Portrait in Shadow and a story that is adorned with magic, The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton is an irresistible and enchanting jewel of a novel.

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