Title: A Portrait of Loyalty
Author: Roseanna M. White
Series: The Codebreakers, book 3
Major Themes: Code, Cyphers, England, Mystery, Spy Novels, Russian Revolution, World War I
Synopsis: Though her photography work is her passion, Lilian also has a job working for Admiral Hall as his propaganda artist—but with tensions rising at home and abroad, can she do the best both for her family and country?
I think I have discovered a writer I’m going to keep an eye on for quite a while. Having read two series by her now, I’m quite impressed by White’s ability to bring history to life, and deliver it in a fascinating story! A Portrait of Loyalty is her most recent, but I hope not the last. Having followed the beginning of World War I through her previous Shadows Over England series, this book, the last in the Codebreakers series, brought that war to a close. And wow. Even though it might not be my overall favorite from the series, this one packed a punch and was well worth the time to read!
Lilian Blackwell, or Lily for short, is a VAD nurse, but she also has another passion—taking pictures to show the beauty in the world around her. With her mother an esteemed artist, it’s only logical that Lily will follow a similar path, although through a different medium—but what isn’t so well known is that Lily also works for Admiral Hall, director of British naval intelligence. Her job, as part of the war effort, is to develop film and help alter or recreate pictures to suit Hall’s needs—mostly in propaganda schemes in other countries. If Lily’s mother finds out about this misuse of art—with an intention to deceive others—Lily knows she will be greatly hurt. But what happens when she meets up with a Russian who needs a genuine friend no matter what? And when influenza strikes the country, will their family be able to pull through unscathed?
One of my favorite parts of A Portrait of Loyalty and, I guess, of all the other books in the series, is just how much World War I came to life here. There are so many details to these past world events that can be easy to miss when studying in school, and I love how books like this bring it to life in a whole new way. You read about things like the Spanish Flu epidemic, but it doesn’t really strike home until someone close to your heroine gets dangerously sick with it. Or, you can read about the takeover of Russia by Lenin, but getting to see it through the eyes of someone who loved “Mother Russia” and the Tzar? Well, that’s completely different. And I loved seeing how all of that happened in here.
I think my other favorite part of this story was seeing the world through the lens of a camera. Over and over again, I’ve been impressed at White’s ability to get into the minds and see through the eyes of her characters. Whether it was Willa (in A Song Unheard) interpreting the world through music—both composing her own music as well as hearing echoes of it around her—or Margot (in The Number of Love) seeing all the mathematical elements of the world, or Lily in this book noticing the little details you’d often miss if you weren’t accustomed to a camera in hand, they were always spot-on and brought an extra richness to the story. I loved it, and I’d love to learn how to do it! As it was, I’m coming away from A Portrait of Loyalty with a fresh appreciation for the beauty around us and more of a desire to pay attention to the details.
This book was well worth the time to read. Both engaging and inspiring, it would make a great read for anyone who loves a good swath of history, a dash of romance, and has an appreciation for well-formed characters. Recommended!
I requested a free review copy of this book, and this is my honest opinion of it.
WARNING: Throughout the book, one of the characters has brief flashbacks or memories of his girlfriend being assassinated, as well as memories of the murders in the Russian revolution. There’s a train crash in the prologue. “Blast” is used frequently throughout the story, in nearly every chapter, often more than once in a chapter. Throughout the first half of the story, a character is forced to lie about what she’s working on to her mother. Most of the second half of the story, an unmarried couple lives together as if married (some mentions of them kissing/touching each other), lie about their true reason for being in England, threaten to assassinate someone, and the woman gets pregnant near the end of the story. People curse (no specific words) throughout the book, as well as use the words “blighted”, “swears”, “blazes”, “how the devil”, “gracious”, and “heaven knew” (or a variant). A man sees something like a grenade hit a church across the street from him in ch. 5, where quite a few people are killed. A woman recounts seeing a bayoneted man in ch. 8. Throughout the story, there is some touching (not sensually) with an unmarried couple, and kissing in ch. 14 (some description), 15, 20, and 29. There is an air raid in ch. 13, but not much description of injuries. People are shot at in ch. 18. Someone dies from influenza in ch. 20, someone is sick in ch. 22, and someone else dies in ch. 23. A boy dies from the flu in ch. 24. Someone is threatened with a gun in ch. 27 and 29.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults