The Portrait
by Maya Rushing Walker
Apollo Grannus Books

"She was either hiding something, or she was so complicated, had so many hidden levels, that there really was no core to her -- merely onion-skin layer after onion-skin layer."

Lady Catherine Claverton is on the outskirts of society in Bath due to the unfortunate circumstances of being born both female and crippled. With her father on his deathbed, the Claverton earldom will end, but Catherine learns that she can inherit her mother’s family title and continue her mother’s line if she can marry and have a child. Catherine has two prospects for a husband: her old friend Sir Lyle Barrington or the newcomer Captain Avebury. Both men have captured Catherine’s affections, but each one has a secret that could sour the future countess’s plans. However, neither secret is as dangerous as Catherine’s.

Honor and reputation are the important themes in this book, and for all three protagonists, both are at stake if their secrets are revealed. Captain Avebury and Sir Lyle are seafaring men, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, yet their values seem to overlap when it comes to honor. The difference between them is how they choose to conduct themselves. Sir Lyle is shadier in his business practices, while Avebury’s mysterious air is more of a burden. The relationship between the men as well as their relationship to their respective careers is an interesting commentary on one’s social status, identity, and ability to move between classes during the era.

Since social mores of the Regency period dictate what a woman can and cannot achieve, Lady Catherine is stuck in limbo due to her physicality as well as her wealth and standing. And while the idea that her secret portrait would be a means of her downfall may seem strange to some, it is further emphasis on the odd standards of women’s conduct and viability that still echo in today’s society. This historical romance is a suspenseful and clever page-turner.

A 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award Historical Fiction Category Honorable Mention

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