4 stars out of 5
Recommended if you’re a fan of historical regency romance already and want something a little different. The novel is also an inspirational romance. I have not read other works by Klassen but other reviews seem to agree this is not her strongest offering.
Little sexual content.
Some violence/death. No gore that I recall.
A dancing master and his sister/mother turn up at Beaworthy where the Lady of the manor has forbidden dancing for her own mysterious reasons. Hijinks ensue!
I loved learning a bit more about the various British dances. I also enjoyed extracts from newspapers peppered throughout the text. There’s evidence that a fair bit of research has gone into this novel, with endnotes by the author about this.
The cast of characters is vast and actually well developed regardless. I enjoyed our hero Alec, the dancing master; he’s not of nobility and has an unusual profession. Julia our heroine isn’t particularly likeable but she does improve herself. There is a certain lack of chemistry between them.
I did enjoy the secondary characters more especially Lady Amelia (Julia’s mother) and John Desmond. There were a pair of villains (avoiding spoilers) where both their depiction and ultimate fate wasn’t satisfactory.
The themes and messages:
I had to leave this novel to stew away in my mind for a while. It left me much to think about.
Lady Amelia has the most power at the village, a situation unusual at the time. She wields a currency afforded to her both by her social class and patronage (matronage!) to the villagers. In many examples social power supercedes the law of the land itself. This contributes to why our villainous figures managed to get away with so much. From my reading, the novel functions as a critique of this. Social power is also a precarious thing, maintained by wealth and secrecy.
Our heroine Julia presents an interesting treatment of womanhood. Where it benefits her, she adheres to gender roles and plays the part as it suits her. She’s restricted by the self-same roles however and craves freedom. Yet she can only find power by using feminity rather than wholly abandoning it. Another issue driving her behaviour is that if Julia ‘could not have a father’s love, then any man’s approval would do.’ I felt this comment by Klassen rendered Julia into a simple caricature of ‘daddy issues’. The character created here is more complicated than that! Too often in real life do women get that label. Why is paternal love even so important? According to Klassen, perhaps it is something to do with the Heavenly Father, which leads us to…
Another thread that becomes more important throughout the story is Klassen’s treatment of religion. The characters come to spiritual revelations and display more religosity than is initially apparent. She mentions different donominations of Christianty e.g. Quakers, Bryanites. Quakers were portrayed as not approving of dance or theatre, though a brief Google suggests modern Quakers have relaxed their stance on this. We could have had more development of the Bryanite aspect. They were depicted rather rosily as worshipping God through dancing/singing; did they really merit such a positive portrait?
Klassen seemed to be also advancing the doctrine of turning the other cheek, which partially explains why there is not much resolution to the books villains big and small. This and other religious aspects of the book weren’t that well developed.
Finally… I rather liked Klassen’s discussions about family; the intersection between biology and choice she portrayed. It was a bit twee at times.
“But I don’t think any parent can expect to escape this life without disappointing his child at some point. And the same could be said the other way around. We all of us fall short now and again, and disappoint someone dear to us, or ourselves.”