PortraitRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel

In order to save the life of a loved one, some people will do anything. Some pray for divine intervention, promising anything and everything in exchange for a miracle. Others turn to magic, offering up blood and sacrifices; some might even be willing to make a deal with the devil. Seventeen-year-old Jocelyn Lennox made a deal with Mab, Queen of the Fae. In exchange for her seven true portraits — everyone knows how much the fae love bards, artists, and poets — Mab would heal her mother, bring her out of the coma she’s been languishing in for almost a year, ever since the car accident.

Ever since her father’s death when Jocelyn was 13, she’s felt responsible for her mother and sister. Since she caused the accident that nearly killed her mother, Jocelyn’s need to take care of things, to take the full weight of responsibility, has only gotten worse. She knows that if she can finish these last two paintings, everything will be all right. It has to be. It just has to be.

Celebrating the acceptance of painting six, Jocelyn decides to go for a drink at “The Time Between,” a fae bar where nymphs and nixies and all manner of otherworldly creatures gather to drink and dance and delight in the novelties of the human world. Protected by the Queen’s Mark, Jocelyn feels more than able to handle herself in the rowdy crowd. The same can’t be said for the group of human girls who saunter through the doors in search of a night’s entertainment, blithely unaware of the dangers around them.

While trying to save them from the handsy redcap Dominic, a faery whose hat must be constantly dipped in fresh — preferably human — blood, she meets Rina, who introduced Dominic to her own right hook. Jocelyn can’t deny her attraction to the striking girl, but she has a job to do and her mother to save. Not to mention it would be too dangerous to bring a human girl, even one with a strong right hook, to the attention of the faery court.

But even for someone with a faery knight as a mentor and guardian, the dangers of the faery court are more dangerous and frightening than Jocelyn cares to admit. Mab will use every trick to avoid having to fulfill her promise, and the court of the shining ones is filled with depravity and death. Even so, Jocelyn can’t bring herself to ignore her interest in Rina.

With her sister, Dominic, and even the hobgoblin who owns the bookstore Jocelyn works in all encouraging her, Jocelyn decides to take a chance on Rina, and a chance on happiness.

Cursed queens, fae knights, half-human heirs to the throne, and a court of light and darkness… for anyone who has read the Merry Gentry books by Hamilton, you’ll find more than a few familiar tropes. However, this book has only the most superficial of similarities. Jocelyn is wholly and utterly human and while the backdrop of her story is one we’ve seen before, it’s her story and hers alone.

Jocelyn was told by her father, before he died, that it was up to her to take care of her sister and mother. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a thirteen-year old, and it’s given Jocelyn a bit of a complex. She feels completely responsible for the accident that put her mother in the hospital. After all, she was the one driving and she was the one arguing with her mother. Never mind that anyone might have tried to avoid hitting the crouched figure in the road, it was her fault that it happened.

It’s that feeling of guilt that led her to finding Queen Mab and entering into the contract: Seven portraits for her mother’s health.

It’s both a strength and a weakness of the book that the backstory is mentioned only off-handedly. We enter into things with Jocelyn already finishing the sixth portrait. We’re never told how it came to be that Dominic, the faery knight, became her guardian or her teacher. It’s like being introduced to a story in book three; there’s very little exposition, we’re simply allowed to infer as much or as little of Jocelyn’s history as we please.

Because this story is so tightly focused on Jocelyn, her family, and her growing relationship with Rina, I think it works. We don’t need to know the history of the faery court in order to sympathize with Jocelyn as she tries to gather the courage to call Rina for a date or to feel the panic when her sister is threatened. It’s organic and well-written and I very much enjoyed the adventure of discovery as the story went along.

Jocelyn is a strong character, with great strength of purpose and such a narrow, tight focus on what she ought to be doing that she ends up blind to the lives of those around her. She isn’t interested in learning more about the court politics or to get to know the changeling princess because she knows that once her painting is done, she’s done. She wants to live her life and maybe get a girlfriend rather than stay and play in the faery court and I think it’s a refreshing point of view in a paranormal romance.

Rina isn’t broken, or a project, or dangerous, or anything more than a normal girl who attends college, worries about her grades, and is coming to learn who she is and what she wants out of life. She’s up front with Jocelyn that she’s never been in a relationship before and isn’t entirely certain if she’s ready for this one. They talk, like people, about their needs and wants and the dynamic between them feels so very human and so very real.

The plot moves as a good pace, neither too fast or to slow. However, there is much in the story that I don’t want to give away, but I promise you that the world building and characters in this story are well worth the read. While there are glimpses of how evil and horrible the faery court it, it’s only shown in glimpses. Jocelyn isn’t interested in being part of it or in taking a closer look, which allows us to use our own imaginations.

The ending felt right, to me, if a little rushed. Again, because the focus is on the human characters, the great politicking and in-fighting in the faery court are alluded to as Jocelyn, Rina, and her friends make it their goal to get to a run away rather than to get involved. Jocelyn wants the people she loves to be safe, not heroes. But I think my favorite part of the book is, at the end, when the faery queen offers them rewards in exchange for their services. Jocelyn isn’t going to be polite and protest, oh no. She went through hell and so did her girlfriend and her sister, and she’s going to get something out of it. I thought it was cute and it was so very Jocelyn.

This is only the first book in a new series and I’m hoping the second book will expand on the faery court and give us more than just a glimpse of the various otherworldly denizens. Though if the author brings Jocelyn and Rina back, I certainly wouldn’t complain.

elizabeth sig