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Review: Portrait of a Lady

Portrait of a Lady audiobook cover. A dark haired man with an open shirt and well-defined torso gazes seductively across a candlelit bedroom. Portrait of a Lady by Victoria Vale.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 8 hrs 38 mins.
🔥Steamy scenes!🔥
#BennetSistersScale: Lizzy - 🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹 Brimming with warmth from more than just the more heated scenes.

Portrait of a Lady, The Gentleman Courtesans, Book 1 by Victoria Vale is a character-driven romp through Regency London, beginning and ending with delightfully indecent proposals. It sets up this new series nicely and introduces us to the five friends we will come to know as the Gentleman Courtesans.

Audible summary: "Miss Evelyn Coburn refuses to die a virgin. At the age of five-and-twenty, she has never even been kissed properly. Upon receiving her inheritance, she decides to investigate rumors of a secret London agency which provides the services of male courtesans. Someone to teach her the secrets of the bedchamber and do away with the nuisance of her maidenhead is all Evelyn anticipates from such an arrangement. 

The Honourable Hugh Radcliffe is in dire financial straits after being disowned by his family for pursuing a career as a portraitist. When he’s asked to go into business to form The Gentleman Courtesans, he agrees, needing the income until his work is accepted into the Royal Academy of the Arts’ annual Summer Exhibition - an event that could earn him the exposure needed to launch him to fame.

The arrangement with Evelyn is only supposed to be temporary, and Hugh is determined for her to be his last paramour. But when physical attraction evolves into a deeper connection, she becomes the muse for his greatest work of art yet.

With their affair coming to an end, Hugh will be forced to acknowledge that Evelyn is the key to his success as well as his joy. Will their newfound happiness end when their arrangement does, or will what began as a matter of lust and convenience lead to true and lasting love?

©2019 Victoria Vale (P)2019 Victoria Vale."

Portrait of a Lady is my second audiobook by Victoria Vale, the first of which, The Damselwas also narrated by Darcy Stark. I enjoyed the last book but this one was even better. Although I would say that it is Regency-style rather than a true period novel, it is an easy, engaging romp nonetheless. It is not faithful to Regency language but it does still convey a strong sense of the era and uses it as the canvas upon which the characters are brought to life. In that manner it is like a television adaptation of a Regency novel, as it contains all the necessary elements but assembles them with a great deal of creative license. As with my favourite adaptations, however, the satisfying execution excuses all its liberties.

Whilst the relationship between Hugh and Evelyn begins rather unconventionally, it progresses far more predictably and - in line with the format - sweeps toward a romantic denouement almost befitting of a Disney princess. That it manages this without being so insufferably sweet or eye-roll-inducing as to wake my natural cynicism made it a very pleasurable novel to listen to. Though Portrait of a Lady is not billed as the sort of 'Dark Regency' of my previous book by Vale, it still contains enough shade to feel realistic in a way that many of the sunnier romances seldom do.

There is a tenderness to the relationship between the protagonists which drives the listener to root for them from quite early on. Evelyn's shyness is balanced with a determination that is not often found in an ingénue, and there is an openness to Hugh's character that remains evident even when he is deceiving himself. Their connection as friends felt sincere, as did their attraction, and the steamier scenes between the pair shared both characters' perspective of their growing intimacy.

Darcy Stark does a great job performing this Regency audiobook, handling the myriad characters well. He has a pleasingly languorous style which well suits a bored aristocrat, and juggles the male, female, gentle, and working class accents without compromising their clarity. Sometimes his 'aristocratic' accent is rather unusual and affected, but that in itself is not inauthentic.

There are a handful of mispronunciations but they are relatively inoffensive, with the exception of his early pronunciation of plural possessives ("several days' worth" pronounced like 'daisies', and the same when referring to multiple whores). Fortunately this tendency did not carry on throughout the book, and his performance will be memorable for more than its mistakes.

This audiobook will sit quite happily in my digital library alongside similar offerings by Tessa Dare, though I think it would scandalise even the ladies of Spindle Cove. There is every chance that I will listen to it again, and I will keep an eye - and ear - out for the rest of the Gentleman Courtesan series. I am already wondering what the other boys have been up to... I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys the saucier kind of historical romance.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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