Friday, July 14, 2017

Review - The Tutor's Daughter

Original Title: The Tutor's Daughter
Series: -
Author: Julie Klassen
Published: January 1st, 2013

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Julie Klassen does it again, delivering a deep, engaging novel you just can’t stop reading. Once again, I found myself staying up late at night, in need of answers, turning page after page, sinking in the mystery and romance, dashed with gothic suspense, this book has to offer. This author is definitely one of the best I’ve ever read, and her passion and commitment for storytelling are visible in the pages of each of her books.

The Tutor’s Daughter is a wonderful gothic romance set in the coast of Cornwall, that starts when Emma Smallwood and her father leave their academy for boys and go to live and teach the younger children of Ebbington Manor, home of the Weston family, whose older sons, Henry and Phillip, both studied with Mr. Smallwood as kids. Emma remembers both from the past, as they played lots of pranks on her as children, and is more eager to see Phillip than Henry, since she recalls him being the kindest, most attentive from the two brothers. But trouble starts head on. From the moment they arrive at Cornwall, things start going oddly wrong. No one shows up when they were supposed to be picked up by a carriage, their rooms aren’t ready when they get to the Manor, the masters of the house have completely forgotten they would arrive that day… And from there, things start to go wrong.

I confess that a part of the mystery didn’t engaged me, simply because I could predict what was going on. The mysterious nocturnal visits to Emma’s room, the handprint on her mirror, the piano playing on its own in the empty music room… That was no ghost. From the moment I read Lady Weston forbidding them to visit the house’s north wing, I knew that the mad man/woman locked up and isolated plot was coming. It isn’t badly written, but it can be seen coming from miles away, and instantly reminded me of another, classic novel with a mad woman locked up in a mysterious, dark, echoing attic (you all know which I’m talking about). It’s not a wrong decision from authors to choose this path, but the thing is that, in my opinion, that other book I mentioned is the first thing that pops into our heads upon reading it. Again, it’s well put, but it’s been read a lot of times before, it’s an overused plot point. Although, as we get to know, this particular madman isn’t exactly crazy; I guessed he was another Weston brother after the brief conversation between Henry and Lady Weston that Emma manages to overhear, but the surprise part for me was to read that Adam wasn’t aggressive, and never meant any harm; he was just curious, as a child, and although the book doesn’t say so, his case sounds more like a case of autism than insanity. It is horrible that having such a child was considered shameful for these grand families, that decided to give them away to be elsewhere, but I loved how Henry still remembered he was his brother, wanted him to have a loving, comfortable home, and loved him for who he was, in despite of everything.

As usual, this book is full of deep constructed characters, and there’s some you love, and some you hate. Emma Smallwood is utterly adorable, and I utterly loved her. She’s smart and organized, and isn’t afraid of anything, she’s bold enough to do whatever is needed, no matter what. I loved the fact that nothing could stop her once her mind was made, and didn’t need anyone’s approval to go ahead with her plans and ideas (when she slapped Lizzie, she did something I had been longing to do myself). Somehow, I felt I could be friends with Emma. Julie Klassen’s characters are always deep and passionate, with both virtues and flaws, and I could truly see some of me in Emma, in her doubts and fears, especially as a Christian, and in that feeling of not-belonging, of not being there, but neither here. As tutors at Ebbington Manor, Emma and her father aren’t servants, but neither part of the family. They are somewhere in the middle, and for the well-organized, always-in-control Emma, that’s a difficult position in which, I believe, most of us have been, are, or will be. And creating a relatable character is key in any piece of fiction, because it can make the reader connect with the character on a deeper level. And Henry! I loved him from page one. He acknowledges he did wrong in the past, and wants to become a better person and Christian. He has to keep his head cool and think as his family’s heir, and that means watching for the state and its grounds, managing finances, and of course, marrying the right woman, which his stepmother already chose to bear the Weston last name (she doesn’t care which brother marries her, as long as one of them does). He is a hero for me, in the way that he doesn’t care what happens to him if that means he can avoid a greater evil. He’s seen enough of men drowning in the sea during storms in the coast, and when his time comes, he does his best to save as many lives as he can. It was very impressive, and mostly because the rescue is based on a real rescue occurred in the area, when a man on horseback was able to rescue sailors from the sea after a shipwreck. Again, Julie Klassen proves how well she knows how to use her research, and how much she cares for historical accuracy.

Even when I was afraid, for a moment, that this book would contain a love triangle (I hate them), I was relieved to find out that it didn’t. I never thought, not even for a moment, that Emma would end up with Phillip. She had fond memories of him, but clearly, she wasn’t going to fall in love with him. She was too smart for someone like Phillip, who always felt like some foolish, soft guy, not at all at the level of what Henry could be. Unlike his brother, Phillip is guided by his feelings and acts upon them, he leaves Oxford at midterm to see some girl of humble origins he’s in love with… I mean, it’s not like there’s too much space for doubting and guessing. Phillip is clearly depicted as somewhat inferior to Henry, and there was no reason for Emma to fall for him, and I’m glad she didn’t, for her relationship with Henry had me rooting for them the entire book, eagerly waiting for them to kiss, and when they did…! *sigh* I read that kiss over and over again, it was beautiful, emotionally open, and raw honest, they stopped thinking and for once listened to their hearts. It’s not like I feared for their lives, but I imagined myself in the whole situation, and it gave me goosebumps (for the record, the flooding chapel, not kissing Henry, but it could be applied to both). Although Emma doesn’t acknowledge her feelings for a big part of the book, she sees Henry’s superiority of character and personality, and how he struggles to improve every day, but knows, the whole time, that he can’t marry her, given her station as the tutor’s daughter. I’ve read many other books in which the characters want to be together, but they struggle to hide their feelings and remain apart from one another simply because they shouldn’t, whatever the reason for that (mostly social standing, but also money conditions, stubbornness, reluctance to accept feelings… you know, the usual), and I liked very much the fact that Emma and Henry know the barriers between them, but they avoid this endless rambling that normally takes lots of pages about all the reasons why the shouldn’t be together. And that’s great, because it speaks of an author behind the book that cares about not exhausting her readers with repeated information, assuming they are smart and don’t need a constant repetition of the same thing over and over again, which happens a lot with other authors. 

After the disaster in the Chapel, I was engrossed with the whole explanations around the mysteries build as the novel moved forward. The plot around Lady Weston was engrossing and I felt outraged, because it was justified. Many times, villains don’t have a believable goal, they exist for the sole purpose of opposing the hero, but you can’t figure out why exactly… But in this case, it has a purpose, and I even understand it. I know why she acted that way, thinking as a mother, going beyond the law for her sons to have something for their future lives. I loved that Rowan decided, in the end, to do the honorable thing, proudly calling Henry his brother and apologizing to Emma for all those pranks, bordering cruelty. But Julian! That prepotency! Upon the ending of the book, seeing him talking to his father and brothers like that, I was thinking “please, sir Giles, slap him as the disrespectful brat he is, he deserves it!”. But he didn’t, instead sending him to the navy. Not everyone gets a happy ending in this book.

There’s something I would like to mention, that doesn’t get completely clarified. Was Phillip in love with Lizzie? That’s probably the only loose end, because everything is an assumption, there’s no clear affirmation that they actually wanted to get married (and they don’t). On the other hand, Aunt Jane’s happy ending left a big smile plastered on my face, because even when she had little part on the story, she was an adorable character and I was very happy that she got to make her delayed dreams come true.

Not much else to add, except that I loved this book, and I wish to do justice to all the awesome little details it has. All authors need the passion Julie Klassen expresses with each page, and of course, I’ll eagerly grab any book with her name on it, because it’s guaranteed to be excellent!

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