Zivon Marin was one of Russia’s top cryptographers until the October Revolution tore apart his world. Forced to flee to England after speaking out against Lenin, Zivon is driven by a growing anger and determined to offer his services to the Brits. But never far from his mind is his brother, who Zivon fears died in the train crash that separated them.
Lily Blackwell sees the world best through the lens of a camera and possesses unsurpassed skill when it comes to retouching and re-creating photographs. With her father’s connections in propaganda, she’s recruited to the intelligence division, even though her mother would disapprove if she ever found out.
After Captain Blackwell invites Zivon to dinner one evening, a friendship blooms between him and Lily that soon takes over their hearts. But both have secrets they’re unwilling to share, and neither is entirely sure they can trust the other. When Zivon’s loyalties are called into question, proving him honest is about more than one couple’s future dreams—it becomes a matter of ending the war.
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As you are all certainly aware, I love White’s books and her writing style, which I will call straightforward with depth. I throughly enjoyed the first two books of the Codebreakers trilogy and my feelings toward A Portrait of Loyalty are no different. I think that it is safe to say that, in terms of pure quality of writing and story, A Portrait of Loyalty is one of her best books yet.
The story line, touching on political division and an epidemic, felt incredibly relevant to the world today. Often times historical fiction authors seem to forget how much more powerful a historical narrative is if their readers can see their own lives in it.
“The world may still look dark, but if photography had taught her anything, it was that there was always more light to be found. Sometimes you just needed to change your lens. And sometimes you need a flash. Neither ever changed what was really there… but [show] it in a new way.” – APL
As the other Codebreakers books are, A Portrait of Loyalty is based in London and centered around the Old Admiralty Building. Unlike the previous books, this story is centered more around Lily’s darkroom than Room 40. Somehow though, despite the fact that both Zivon and Lily work at the Old Admiralty Building, it is by no means the focal point of the story.
“Look for the beauty in a thousand silent moments.” – APL
On to the characters, unsurprisingly they were interesting, enjoyable and layered. I loved getting see Margot and Drake get married (!!) as well as the appearances of Barclay, Camden and Ara.
Lily is not my favorite of White’s female MCs, but she is an enjoyable character to get to know. Her doubts, grief and struggles were realistic and relatable. I appreciated hearing Lily’s struggle about using her art form, photography, for the war effort, in a way that she felt was deceitful; in my experience, it is something that is rarely touched upon in books.
Zivon was interesting and his story was compelling. Watching Zivon grow and move forward past the hatred and anger that was slowly consuming him was powerful, as were his conflicting feelings about that same hatred.
“Her eyes . . . they were much like her father’s. They carried within them a knowledge of the storms always rumbling and flashing on the horizon. An understanding of these times, the good and the bad. A . . . a seeing. He didn’t know what else to call it. Not a gathering of the facts, of the patterns that he sought. It was something different. Something he couldn’t name. But something that made him think she understood things he didn’t.” – APL
Of course, I must also mention Nadya and Evengi. I appreciated the way that White did not demonize them for their socialist beliefs – it would have been very simple to do so – and instead made them both feel incredibly human. It was impossible not to both like them and feel compassion for them.
Probably my one true frustration with A Portrait of Loyalty was how the story ended for Nadya. Nadya is a strong independent woman, a solider, who is passionate about her socialist beliefs. Although I absolutely disagree with her on some issues, one thing I do agree with her on is the fact that men and women are equals. I felt that how White left Nadya, with a technically happy ending, continued an old set of tropes, where (a) the woman who believes in gender equality is the “bad” character and (b) the same woman ultimately decides to put aside her beliefs and raise a family, and therefore makes the right choice.
“She had a feeling he was like a matryoshka doll too–a placid exterior that hid layers of secrets and mysteries. And she couldn’t help but wonder what lay beneath this carefully crafted shell.” – APL
All in all, I enjoyed White’s (second) latest release greatly and it only furthered my admiration for her solid and moving stories; I can’t recommend this book enough.
Have you read A Portrait of Loyalty? Do you have a favorite author?