By Julie Klassen
Bethany House, 2013
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.
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?
To put it quite simply, I have loved every book that I've read by Julie Klassen, and The Dancing Master is no exception. Julie's prose is beautiful and the descriptions of village life are excellent. Her research was surely extensive and the historical quotes at the beginning of each chapter are a great touch.
The Dancing Master might seem a little long to some - and while there's mystery, the action is not fast paced - but I savored every moment spent in its pages. The setting is Devonshire, England in 1816, and the Prologue sets the stage for what's to come with these beautiful words:
"From behind the market hall, an old man hobbled into view. He tossed aside his apron and bowed before the woman. And she in turn curtsied. She gave him a girlish smile, and decades flew from her face."
The "devil's stone" - Shebbear, Devonshire
As a pianist and someone who loves to watch ballroom dancing, I found much enjoyment is the descriptions of various dances. Memories of playing Beethoven's "Minuet in G" quickly came to mind as I read through a scene where the minuet was taught. Julie's writing is such that these stately dances really come alive. And honestly, what could be more romantic than ballroom dancing like that pictured on the cover?
Alec and Julia are quite complex characters and I really liked how most of the narrative is from Alec's point of view. The dancing master is a unique character . . . Dancing was such an important part of society that dance masters were sought after and mixed freely with the elite, knowing all the while that they could never be considered equals and were therefore looked down upon by the very ladies they were teaching. Julia initially comes across as selfish, self-centered and reckless, but as her past is slowly uncovered, we see and welcome a gradual transformation.
The unusual and enthusiastic worship of a group called the Bryanites added much to the story, for dance was the expression of their joy and praise. While watching them in one scene, Alec wondered: "How long had it been since he had communed with his Creator with half the sincerity and fervor of these people?"
But it is the character of Johnny Desmond who will linger in my thoughts. Mysterious, flawed, talented as a blacksmith and musician both, a man with a surprisingly deep faith - for it is he who points out to Julia that she is a "child of the King." And in their conversation, he states simply: "I don't know how religious I am, but I know I'd be lost without Christ."
The theme of God's love and grace is woven throughout this story, in a way that blends in simply with the storyline. Readers who like a Regency setting, strong characterization and entertaining story will enjoy The Dancing Master.
5 stars, based on the rating criteria on the sidebar. Definitely recommended!
"To research The Dancing Master, my husband and I went English country dancing several times at the Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis. We learned a lot and had a great time. I also attended dance classes during the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting. What fun to dance with other Janeites, many of us in costume! I also read several books written by dancing masters, like A New Most Excellent Dancing Master: the Journal of Joseph Lowe (Joseph Lowe went on to become dancing master for Queen Victoria’s children), as well as visiting web sites like regencydances.org.
"Fictional Buckleigh Manor was inspired by Buckland House, in the village of Buckland Filleigh, Devonshire. Many thanks to Madeline Jane Taylor for her helpful book about the area, Buckland Filleigh, A Continuous Thread."
Julie Klassen loves all things Jane---Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. She is a three-time Christy Award winner and a 2010 Midwest Book Award winner for Genre Fiction. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Learn more about Julie and her books by visiting the Litfuse Publicity page and Julie's website.
Thank you to Litfuse Publicity and Bethany House for providing a copy of The Dancing Master in exchange for my honest review.
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