The Optickal Illusion

Overlook. Jun. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781468316292. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781468316308. F
In the Georgian art world, where one's livelihood is based on reputation, technique is a jealously guarded secret, and rivalries are intense. For Anglo-American artist Benjamin West, second president of the still-young Royal Academy, and victim of his own waning genius, the promise of a long-lost formula for Titian's famous coloring proves irresistible. That this formula is offered by a talented painter who is also a clever and charming young lady tantalizes Ben into sacrificing good sense and integrity, embroiling him and the academy in a scandal that threatens their undoing. At the center, the mysterious Jemima Provis and her father play a dangerous game among shifting loyalties and limitless ambitions. A mystery within only adds to the intrigue as a bold and determined woman struggles to forge her identity in a world where women figure only in the background of events.
VERDICT Halliburton's debut is a vibrant portrait of an age of political and artistic revolution as well as a gripping story, slowed only at the outset by the introduction of an enormous cast of characters who later lend color to the narrative. For fans of 18th-century historical fiction.
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