Carrie Lofty's series for Carina Press. First with Song Of Seduction, and now this latest release, Portrait of Seduction - that's exactly what the author does. She seduces the reader with her stories.
Greta Zwieg started forging paintings because of Napoleon. All of Salzburg is in a constant state of worry, and people are determined to protect their valuables. So while Greta's fakes hang on the walls, the real masterpieces are safely tucked away. However, quite by accident, Greta soon learns that her uncle is passing her fakes off as the real deal, and selling them to unsuspecting buyers! She is horrified by this deceit, but as a single woman, a poor relation at that, she does not have the power to stand up to him - the man who gave her a home after her parents both died tragic deaths.
Oliver Doerger is living a lie. Born a bastard, this former military man is posing as a valet for his aristocratic half-brother and playing spy. Uncertain times have led Oliver into this life. His brother needs him. His country needs him. Then a dramatic night at the opera puts him in the path of Greta Zwieg. Even as they both intellectually know that no good can come of their attraction, they succumb anyway. She's a well-born lady with a dangerous secret and vile uncle. He's a not-so-well-born "servant" with a dangerous secret. This love affair should have doomed ending written all over it - but, of course, since it is a romance novel, it happily does not.
What I love about Lofty's historicals is that she never flat-out ignores the history. She uses that history, bends it a bit, and spins her characters into people that very possibly could have existed in real life. Greta, while a smart woman, has no real power. She's completely under the thumb of her uncle, and haunted by what happened to her parents. Defying her uncle is not an option. At least not an option if she wants to stay safe. For a woman in the early 19th century, safety was a very important thing indeed.
Oliver is a good man, a solid man, a man who would make any woman in the appropriate class a good husband. But Greta is not in his class. She's so far out of his league he might as well be standing on the moon. Even though he is masquerading as a valet, he's still a bastard. Period. End of story. So while he's horribly tempted by Greta, and dangerously attracted to her, he knows (and she knows!) that nothing good can ever come of it. Of course, does this stop them? Uh, no.
If I had to describe this novel is one word it would be passionate. With Song of Seduction, that passion expressed itself through the music. With Portrait of Seduction, that passion plays out in the utter need and want that sizzles between the couple. Lush, seductive, these two people are burning for each other - even as they know, intellectually, that their passion will destroy them. There is a reason that writers and storytellers have been exploring themes of forbidden love for thousands of years. When the story works, it captivates quite like nothing else.
In many ways, I felt this was a tremendously strong story. I did, at times, find myself frustrated with the characters - especially Greta who, at times, was a little insensitive. However, to be fair, this insensitivity fits perfectly into the type of woman she is, the time period she inhabits, and the difference in station from Oliver. Still, when she did do, or say something, that hurt his feelings, I had that urge to reach through the mechanical cogs of my Sony Reader and happily slap her simple.
Still, it's to the author's credit that she makes it all work without throwing the historical baby out with the bath water. A large reason why it works is because she smartly sets this story during the chaotic time of the Napoleonic Wars. I was lost, swept away by the magic the author weaves, and invested in this romance that should have had tragic overtones, but never, ever did. The passion, the threat of war, the uncertainty, the angst - I positively wallowed in it. It's a big, sweeping, dramatic story that hearkens back to a time when historical romance meant grand passion smartly displayed against a backdrop of compelling historical detail. Don't miss it.
Grade = B+
Note: This title is available from Carina Press and at other fine e-retailers.