Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Review: Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty

5 stars

Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty was a beautifully crafted romance set in Salzburg, Austria in the early 1800s. Arie De Voss is a composer, renowned for his Love and Freedom symphony. Unfortunately for Arie's conscience, he didn't actually write it. Widowed Mathilda Heidel has always done her best to fade into the background. Her talent at violin set her apart from other young women, so she never pursued it, until her friend insists she attend lessons with Herr De Voss. Mathilda has idolised Arie since she first heard him conduct when she was sixteen, but he's nothing like she imagined. He's prickly and rude and forward...until suddenly he isn't. 

Both Arie and Mathilda were wonderfully complex and imperfect characters. Arie was anxious and hated socialising. Sometimes, he was even mean, and yet somehow the reader is still inclined to sympathise with him. In contrast, Mathilda was running scared from her ability to play music by ear, not wanting to stand out any more than she already does, thanks to her parent's interfaith Catholic-Jewish marriage and its tragic end. She married Jürgen, a local doctor, precisely because he was staid, and I really appreciated that Lofty didn't take the usual tack with this. More often than not - perhaps to justify the 'one great love' ideal and provide tension - widow heroines have had abusive first marriages, but this is not the case with Mathilda. Jürgen was kind and gentle, and after his death Mathilda is left feeling guilty that she hid her musical ability from him. The way Arie helped her come to terms with this and many other things, including her female sexuality, counterbalanced his tendency to be a bit of a bastard at times, and left the reader, ultimately, on his side. Arie and Mathilda's love was no idealised rainbow and unicorns affair, but a more realistic and honest acceptance of the other, idiosyncrasies and all. 

The three-part structure really reinforced this. There was no fade to black as soon as the characters decided they loved each other, and it was moving to be able to watch Mathilda and Arie's struggles. No matter what romance novels tell us, the decision to be together is more often the beginning of a story than the end of one, and I was glad to see this reflected in Song of Seduction.

Lofty's writing is lyrical in a way reminiscent of Eva Ibbotson's romances, and not just because both take place within the German-speaking world. Like so many people, Ibbotson's romances were amongst those that introduced me to the genre, and - until now - I have never found an author who so recreate a world long gone in such an evocative and all-consuming manner. If I occasionally rolled my eyes at Lofty's adjectival descriptions of music, it probably has more to do with me being a musical Philistine than her writing, and even I can appreciate how central music was to the characters and their relationship. 

Overall, Song of Seduction was so good that I've been stuck in a serious book funk ever since finishing it. Nothing is helping, so I'll probably end up reading the Ibbotson book that started it all, The Morning Gift, for about the bazillionith time.

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