Top positive review
The Perfect Late Summer Romance with a Dash of Gothic Mystery
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on September 1, 2020
The Tutor's Daughter is what might happen if Northanger Abbey and The Secret Garden had a baby, and maybe if Persuasion were its auntie. In my revisits of Julie Klassen's books, this is one of my favorites. The romance between Emma and Henry combines timeless and unique, and the mysterious elements add some delicious intrigue to the windswept, sometimes melancholy Cornwall setting.
I found a literary soul sister in Emma Smallwood. At first I thought that was just because we would both be considered "spinster bluestockings" in Regency England--ladies who loved to read and study but often found ourselves at sea with socialization. But as the book progressed, I saw myself in Emma's need for order and control, too. That's why I felt conviction regarding her spiritual journey, but also rooted for her to learn and grow--because I found myself rooting for the same things in my own life. (Hopefully though, it won't take a near-drowning in a cliffside chapel in my case). :)
Henry Weston was Emma's perfect hero, though a bit of a surprise as far as heroes go. That is, if I were Emma, I too would stay as far as possible from the grown up boy who pranked and teased me mercilessly in school--and not only school, but my own home, no less! The nerve! I didn't blame her for comparing Henry to the north wind at first, but if north wind Henry is, he is the bracing, refreshing kind. A perfect gentleman, yet bold and unafraid to stand up for those he loves and what is right, he made me swoon in an understated way. But sometimes understated heroes are the best.
I loved the secondary characters too, mostly because the majority were unpredictable. Emma's comparison of the four Weston brothers to the four winds was a clever bit of symbolism, and it works wonderfully whenever we see the brothers on the page. Without giving away anything, I too tried to guess who was who, and found myself pleasantly though not unexpectedly surprised. As with all good suspense, the solution makes sense once you see it, but until then, guessing and puzzling things out is fun. Those secondary characters gave me a lot to puzzle over, especially Lizzie (was she a "good guy" or a "bad guy") Derrick Teague (how did he fit into the rest of the story) and even Adam (again, where did he fit in)?
Speaking of Adam, I must applaud Julie for his character. I had a lot of mixed feelings, because as a modern reader, I hated the idea of Adam being raised elsewhere just because of a disability. I was also ready to say some Very Bad Things to Lady Weston and the Penberthys on his behalf. But, no such thing as politically correct history and all. For their era, the Westons mostly did the best they could--looking at you again, Lady Weston! And as for Adam himself--well, I'm not entirely on board with his savant characteristics because people still tend to think that all people like Adam are savants. But I liked how those skills were allowed to make up his whole character, and Adam does come across as three-dimensional. I felt terrible for him, but I never felt he was a helpless victim. Instead, I felt that with people like Henry and Emma supporting him, he could excel.
The spiritual threads here are fairly subtle, but well done. There were many times Henry could've preached at people, and sometimes I admit I kind of wished he would. Mostly though, we see the difference between relying on God and ignoring Him through characters' actions. It's allowed to happen organically, which invites readers to think through implications themselves. Emma is a great example, in that she shuns God for taking her mother, yet seems to think He will treat her just as that critical parent did. I loved seeing her learn the opposite is true--because I have to relearn that fairly often. Another good example is Sir Giles, who struggles to lead his family and pays the consequences of his attitude, but is given a second chance.
All this happens in a beautiful, and as I said intriguing, setting. Throughout The Tutor's Daughter, I could feel the sea winds and hear the ocean crashing against the cliffs, or the warning bell trying to shelter sailors and civilians from unexpected storms. I wanted to visit the Weston manor, maybe poke around and stir up a little intrigue for myself. Failing that, I'd have loved to share a book and cup of tea with Emma, or play chess or "battles" with Emma, Adam, and Henry. If I couldn't do that in real life, this novel was the next best thing. It gets my enthusiastic recommendation.