The Dancing Master
by Julie Klassen (Goodreads Author)
Leaving London, dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire--but is stunned to discover that dancing is prohibited! He finds an unlikely ally in Miss Julia Midwinter, but her questions about his past are becoming harder to evade. Together, can they bring new life to this quiet village--and heal long-kept-secret scars?
When I heard that Ms. Klassen would be releasing a new book soon, I could hardly wait. She didn't disappoint. I so often found myself finding things that I loved about this book that I didn't want to forget to mention due to gushing that I actually took notes, which was a first for me. So! Onto my list:
The language- so beautifully and well done! So many novels of this kind try to get the language right and it just comes off unnaturally. The expressions and conversations really set the tone of the book and rather than constantly reminding me that this was a book written in the present day, it was easy to get transported back in time to the fictional but lovely early 19th century Beaworthy.
I loved the nods to Jane Austen. The book wasn't stuffed with them, but the occasional nod and wink had me smiling, from the resemblance of Lady Amelia to Lady Catherine de Bourgh and several lines that I know were taken from Pride and Prejudice directly, it added to the books charm.
The characters, oh the characters! I loved that Julia was flawed. It made her relatable and loveable. Despite some of the things she did that annoyed me, I too hoped for depth and was so happy to slowly get to know her better.
I loved that Julia came to love Alec slowly, naturally, and really because of his integrity and how he treated her with respect. What a wonderful message. In this genre, I've seen authors paint their characters simply without ever testing them and sometimes overlooking minor choices that don't uphold honesty and faithfulness etc. But Alec was always steadfast.
And Lady Amelia Midwinter. Ah. While she reminded me so much of Lady Catherine for the first half of the book, she blossomed in her own right, as a woman with a past, with feelings, with mistakes and with growth.
I also found someone to love in just about every single one of the supporting characters and there were a lot. That hasn't really happened to me since Lawana Blackwell's Gresham series. They are each distinctly their own. The only ones that bothered me were the Wilcox brothers, and not just because they were supposed to be antagonistic, but maybe because it seemed like they were dropped into the story simply for the purpose of being minor villains and they always had me on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But eventually, Ms. Klassen chipped away at my distaste for them as well by flushing out their characters. Resolving some of the antagonistic ways was just the cherry on top.
The mystery that surrounded several new characters as they were introduced and woven into the story was very well done. They were interesting and it all seemed natural. Just as I started to think I had figured something out, the story would twist and change, keeping me invested.
The romance- it was slow and wonderful. I loved that it was not necessarily the focal point of the story. While I normally hate switching back and forth from the two main characters points of view (where is the mystery? the butterflies?) this time it made sense. Alec had a separate story of his own to tell, as did Julia. They were not immediately obsessed with each other and the romance between them flourished in a beautiful way. The Christian themes were very well done and I loved the father-daughter messages there as well.
The plot was hardly ever predictable. The letter in the drawer left no easy answers; even knowing more than Julia, I was still confused. The only thing I could see ahead of time was the Mr. Valcourt/Mr. Valcourt confusion, which may have only been because of Alec's guilt in deceiving Lady Amelia early on.
A couple of other smaller things- the authentic period information at the beginning of chapters and occasionally sprinkled throughout helped keep the story flowing and was very interesting to a history-lover like me. I particularly loved the conversation between Patience and Julia starting on pg. 263. It was lively, intelligent, funny, but still honest. So often, women seem to give in to the need to say things that our friends want to hear instead of the truth that they need to hear. I thought Patience and Julia set a good example. Also, the cover art is just perfect- the expression on that girl's face- definitely Julia!
It takes a skilled writer to weave together so many detailed stories and infuse them with life. Ms. Klassen did so brilliantly. She made me fall in love with these people and so, this is a story that I will return to again and again.