Grade: A-

Sensuality: Hot

Publication date: June 2010

European historicals set outside Great Britain are rare, and those set in countries other than France, Italy, and Greece are close to extinct. Carrie Lofty’s Song of Seduction is set in 1804 Salzburg, and merely reading about it got me salivating. It proved a rich meal: Tightly written, well-researched, and as moving and romantic as I could have wished.

Arie De Voss is a Dutch composer and musician who has recently moved to Salzburg. He performs at a party given by Lord Venner, his new patron, where he meets recently widowed Mathilda Heigel, Lady Venner’s best friend and houseguest. As he needs students to provide his income, Lady Venner suggests he give Mathilda violin lessons. Arie thinks Mathilda wants an erotic encounter, as some of his female admirers do, and he is astounded to discover an amazing musical talent in her.

Mathilda meets Arie with very mixed feelings. She gave up playing the violin shortly before her marriage and is worried it might not be fitting for her to take up playing again. At the same time, she has been fascinated by Arie since she heard him at a concert six years earlier and has been fantasizing about him for years, even during her marriage. Now that she is meeting him in the flesh, she is disconcerted by his inebriate rudeness and abrupt manner, worrying how thoroughly her idol may fall short of her expectations.

Mathilda and Arie’s relationship is challenging from the first. Each comes with preconceptions about the other, and while Arie sheds his fairly quickly, Mathilda’s idolization of him causes some snags. Each is wildly talented, but in a different way, which means that with all the admiration for each other there is a touch of competition and jealousy. And each hides secrets: Arie’s fame is based on his first symphony, which was actually written by his late mentor. And Mathilda’s desperate attempts to be straitlaced stem from deep hurts she suffered during her childhood and youth. Their relationship is full of pitfalls, and seeing them navigate these and open up to each other was incredibly moving to read.

I loved the sex scenes. Carrie Lofty manages the remarkable feat of describing what has been described so often before and making it luscious and hot and – you hear me right – unique. Readers should be warned, however, that one time sex goes wrong – not terribly wrong, but enough to possibly bother those especially sensitive about this matter.

The secondary figures are deftly characterized, both fictional and non-fictional ones. (As an aside: I sincerely hope Carrie Lofty is planning a story about Oliver the man-servant.) The descriptions of Salzburg are most evocative and, as far as I can judge, spot-on in capturing its geography and mood. And I loved how the role of music is depicted in the novel: the social and financial uncertainty of musicians’ lives, the obsession that comes with creative powers, and the emotions evoked by a great piece of art. Marvellous!

There are some extremely minor quibbles: German aristocratic titles are used wrongly twice, and some of the first names don’t fit the period. Close to the end, one character behaves in a rather inconsistent manner mostly to provide one more stumbling block before the happy ending.

Song of Seduction is a romance I cannot recommend highly enough. I read it in one sitting and was enthralled with the intense story-telling and the compelling characters. If Carina Press continues to publish books of this quality, they will make this reader, at least, very, very happy.

— Rike Horstmann