Portrait of Seduction
I didn’t like Carrie Lofty’s Portrait of Seduction only because of its unusual setting, but I admit that being set in 1805 Salzburg gave it a huge leg up on the competition. Throw in a noble heroine who is in love with a valet (not your typical valet, but a valet nonetheless), and you have a pretty intriguing read.
Greta Zwieg in an artist who has been forging masterpieces. Not dishonestly, mind you – she forges them so noble families can hide the originals safely away from Napoleon’s advancing army. However, she is at the mercy of her uncle, and when he begins selling her forgeries as originals, she is unsure how to stand up to him.
Oliver Doerger is not exactly who he says he is either. Salzburg society – at least the part of it that would notice – sees him as a common valet. In reality, he serves his half brother Lord Venner and acts as his eyes and ears. He meets Greta quite by accident at an opera. When a would be assasin attacks Duke Ferdinand at the opera, Greta gets in the way, and the assassin briefly threatens her life. Oliver successfully intervenes, acting with much more confidence than a typical valet. In gratitude, Greta’s uncle invites him to their home.
At the same opera, Oliver is stunned to find his best friend Karl, a man he thought was dead. Karl is now posing as an aristocrat and wants Oliver’s support. Since Karl once saved his life, Oliver is unsure how far his loyalty should go.
Through a series of chance (and not-so-chance) meetings, Oliver and Greta grow closer together. He learns of her painting and endeavors to teach himself about the world of art. He also stumbles upon her secret, and keeps his own counsel about the forgeries, but must protect his half brother from deceit.
The conflicts here are clear, and none of them has an easy solution (which is exactly how I like my conflicts). Greta and Oliver come to love and respect each other, but their relationship seems utterly impossible. He’s a servant, she is of the nobility (though somewhat on the fringes). They also have personal conflicts; Greta’s uncle is her guardian, and he’s ordering her to knowingly sell forgeries, and Oliver’s best friend wants him to lie and deceive all of society so he can gain wealth and stature. I always like when I can’t immediately see where a book will be going. Of course, this is a romance, so we know about where matters will end up. But the “getting there” is entertaining and often unexpected.
And of course, I adored the setting. The characters are not Englishmen fighting in Austria or visiting Vienna; they are Austrians. People outside of the British Isles fall in love too! Imagine that.
Now, this isn’t a perfect read. While I enjoyed the setting and the conflict, I didn’t always love the characters, and at times the writing seemed like it could use a bit more polish. The Oliver/Karl plotline dragged on a little too long for my taste, and I thought he should have told Karl where to go long before he finally did.
That said, Portrait of Seduction is well-worth reading, particularly for fans of unusual settings. Artists? Austrians? Pseudo-valets who are half-noble ex-military men? More, please!