Austenites, those that are devotees of all things Jane Austen, will love reading "The Tutor's Daughter" by Christian fiction author Julie Klassen. Set along the rocky coastline of Cornwall at Ebbington Manor, the home of the Weston family, the book is full of regency era drama and mysterious secrets and forbidden passages. Just as with her previous books set in this time period - "The Apothecary's Daughter" and "The Girl in the Gatehouse" - Klassen keeps readers turning pages and speculating over who is the one really keeping secrets and what is behind the door that no one is supposed to open.
Readers of Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" will remember that Mr. Edward Ferrars was privately tutored in Longstaple near Plymouth for four years; this is where he first met Lucy Steele. While Mr. Smallwood is not the same one who tutored E. Ferrars, he does run a small boarding school in Longstaple, assisted by his daughter Emma. When it seems that the Smallwoods school is sure to fail, a letter from the father of two former students provides a unique opportunity for Emma and her widowed father. Would they consider coming to Ebbington Manor in Ebford, Cornwall and teach the twin half-brothers of their former students?
From the moment of their arrival in Cornwall, Emma Smallwood suspects something is amiss in the home of Sir Giles Weston and the rest of his family. The twin brothers, Rowan and Julian are a bit surly, the second Mrs. Weston is not at all welcoming, Lizzie Henshaw (Mrs. Weston's ward) is a giddy girl who is a bit nosy and the former students, Henry and Phillip Weston, are no where to be found. Of course, Emma is none to anxious to see Henry again as he used to torment her endlessly during his time in Longstaple. Phillip was friendlier, but he is away at Oxford.
As the story progresses and the two elder Weston brothers return to Ebbington Manor, strange events begin to take place. Emma's journal goes missing, a handprint is discovered on her mirror and there are often muffled sounds coming from the north wing of the estate. The fact that Emma has been instructed by Lady Weston to stay away from the north wing of the house only makes the mysterious late night sounds coming from the hallway all the more intriguing. The strange appearance of a rough-looking man from the village at the manor at various times also seems to add to the inexplicable events that seem to surround the manor and the rocky cliffs on which it is situated.
No one can duplicate the wit, plot devices and genuineness of a Jane Austen novel and Julie Klassen is not trying to with "The Tutor's Daughter." Instead, she takes what are the most-loved aspects of an Austen story - the witty bantering between the hero and heroine, the secrets every family wants to keep secret and the desire of everyone to be understood and loved for who they are - and crafts her own unique tales.
While many "inspirational" Christian novels can be overwrought with drama and the need for an eternal Savior, Klassen never lets that happen in her stories. The characters she creates are genuine and believable. They share their faith in a way that anyone who has ever shared their reason for believing in a heavenly Father has and it makes the reader care about the characters even more. No one is perfect in real life and neither are they in Klassen's novels; that is why their actions and words can seem like those that readers experience in their own lives.
If you enjoy historical fiction with twists like those found in the works of Jane Austen or any of the Bronte sisters, you don't want to miss "The Tutor's Daughter" or any other book written by Julie Klassen. Her next book set in Regency England, "The Dancing Master," will be released in Jan. 2014)
"The Tutor's Daughter"
Author: Julie Klassen
Publisher: Bethany House, June 2013
List Price: $14.99
The Christian Fiction Examiner received a free copy of "The Tutor's Daughter" from Bethany House.