The premise of Ester and Artemisia is wonderful–Adina, a brilliant black art professor, must decide whether or not to authenticate a painting forged by her forger crush/nemesis, Ester–, but the prose leaves something to be desired and the commentary on racism is superficial.
That said, the chemistry between the main characters and the unique scenario they found themselves in kept me reading this short and steamy romance (about 20,000 words or a little more than 50 pages). The sex is not generic, but serves to further individualize the characters. And though I’m no art expert myself, the symbolic centering of Artemisia Gentileschi, the Baroque artist who endured torture in order to see her rapist convicted and went on to paint compelling and emotional works, was very satisfying.
That said, Aarons-Hughes’s fictional Gentileschi forgery is, as described, more interesting than the Black Lives Matter allegory which Ester also paints. Although discussion of racism could have been a more organic part of the story, since Adina is black and Ester, who is Hispanic, sees no way to break into the mostly-white professional art world as an original artist, it ends up heavy-handed and very broad.
Aside from this off note and the numerous cliches in the text (butterflies in Adina’s stomach, for example), this is a quick and engrossing read, full of detail about art, food, and sex. If you’re looking for novella-length romance, it’s worth checking out. And the cover is absolutely lovely!
Note: My Walking on Knives shares a publisher with this work.