I mentioned in an earlier installment that I had been fortunate enough to win a copy of the galley of Julianne MacLean's new release, Portrait of a Lover before it hit the bookshelves on February 28th. I finished reading it last night and all I can say is wow. Actually more like WOW.
The challenge Julianne had with this story was taking Magnus, who was the villain in Love According to Lily, and turning him into a hero. No easy task given what we knew about him from her previous book, and yet Julianne managed the hurdle with her usual brilliance. I won't give the details away, but suffice to say she did not take the easy route. Annabelle and Magnus have a past, and not a real pretty one.
It would have been easy to slap together an uncomplicated explanation and have the characters get over it with the adage of love conquers all, but I think the readers would have felt a bit cheated. Instead Julianne takes us on a journey, first back to the original relationship, and then forward to the present day of the story. It's a wonderful, rocky, emotional trip that tugs at your heartstrings and ultimately has you cheering for these two to put their pasts to rest. But life isn't that easy, and Julianne doesn't shy away from that fact, and in doing so gives the story a realism that makes it all the more satisfying in the end.
Was she able to turn the villainous Magnus into a hero? Absolutely, and in a way that made it so believable you were routing for him right from the start. But the damage done from his past left a lot of things that needed to be overcome and therein lived the conflict.
With each book Julianne MacLean keeps getting better and better, delving into the truth of emotion and not stepping back from the dark side just because it isn't quite as pretty. She colors Portrait of a Lover with all the shades of light and dark and in the end paints a picture that stays with you long after you've finished the last page.