Review: Generally speaking, regency fiction – or really, most novels that fall within the historical fiction genre, is something I prefer when the British give us a spectacular new cinematic production. For some crazy reason, I love it when seen through the lens of vivid film but reading about it…? I just haven’t been able to fall into the fan base. For this reason, this is only the second novel I’ve read by the talented Julie Klassen which follows a young dancing instructor Alec Valcourt newly arrived from London to the small village of Beaworthy. Once there, living with his mother and sister under his uncle’s roof, Alec is anxious to set up a new academy only to learn that the estate landowner, Lady Midwinter has forbidden dancing of any kind to be participated in. When he meets Julia Midwinter, the woman’s impetuous daughter, Alec is surprised to find her desirous to go against her mother and learn the art of dance but also a young lady who has no scruples about who she flutters her eyes at. When past secrets begin to emerge, it’s up to Julia and Alec to restore happiness to the village that has tiptoed around Lady Midwinter for one too many years.
Whatever I may conclude about The Dancing Master, it’s unarguable that Klassen is a talented authoress and it’s easy to see why her style is so often compared to the greats. She has a flair for enticing familiarity to Austen and usually also sneaks in hints of mystery which explains the comparisons to the Bronte sisters. Her prose is stylistically gorgeous and descriptive which is what helps make the gorgeous cover design come alive – each of her scenes put us in mind of elegance personified and as such, we’ve no problem feeling as if we’re “living” in regency England through the lives of Alec, Julia and each supporting character we encounter. My reservations about this novel is more personal taste than objection to its content although I will say its love story fell flat – the romance is rarely built on which makes the romantic side less plausible. What portrays itself as a romance in a pretty picture of dance is actually a novel about a young man coming to grips with his past and a young woman learning that her past is riddled with secrets – and this is really where the story itself shines.
Klassen expertly weaves this story with red herrings and misdirection. While reading the latter half of the story (when this issue really upped its intrigue), I flip-flopped more than once over what the truth was and until the book was nearly done, never did guess what the “secret” was. It was fantastic how in and out of mystery the author teases her readers and while some of the characters themselves disappointed, Julia’s search for truth did not. While I superbly enjoyed the theme of the novel (dancing), its focus wasn’t as clear-cut as its peers. If you don’t mind the focal point of historical that uses its characters as individuals to tell a story, then The Dancing Master is for you. Within that, priority is spent on Alec – it’s he we get to know best whereas Julia feels more like a figure in the background and of course, we also are privy to Lady Midwinter’s perspective in select passages.
Unless I miss my guess, fans of Julie Klassen will enjoy being swept up in another historical revel, and if that’s your preference, then this elegant book will enchant any reader.
Synopsis: Finding himself the man of the family, London dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire, hoping to start over. But he is stunned to learn the village matriarch has prohibited all dancing, for reasons buried deep in her past.
Alec finds an unlikely ally in the matriarch’s daughter. Though he’s initially wary of Julie Midwinter’s reckless flirtation, he comes to realize her bold exterior disguises a vulnerable soul—and hidden sorrows of her own.
Julia is quickly attracted to the handsome dancing master—a man her mother would never approve of—but she cannot imagine why Mr. Valcourt would leave London, or why he evades questions about his past. With Alec’s help, can Julia uncover old secrets and restore life to her somber village . . . and to her mother’s tattered heart?
Filled with mystery and romance, The Dancing Master brings to life the intriguing profession of those who taught essential social graces for ladies and gentlemen hoping to make a “good match” in Regency England.
With thanks to the publisher (Bethany House) and the ladies at Litfuse for providing a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purposes.