Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"The Dancing Master" Review

Julia Midwinter has felt trapped in the tiny village of Beaworthy for as long as she can remember. Smothered by an overprotective mother and ignored by an uncaring father, Julia longs to be free to tour the world and experience all life has to offer.

When Alec Valcourt arrives in Beaworthy, Julia is intrigued, especially when she finds out that he is a dancing master. Dancing has been forbidden in Beaworthy for twenty years, ever since Julia’s Uncle Graham was killed in a duel during the May Day Celebrations. Julia’s mother, Lady Amelia, has never been able to reconcile the events that led to her brother’s death; thus, dancing is something that is not done in Beaworthy.

Julia wonders if there is more to the circumstances surrounding her uncle’s death than her mother has told her. Alec, too, is running from his own family secrets – reasons that explain why he and his mother and sister have come to Beaworthy.

As more and more secrets are revealed, Alec and Julia are drawn to each other. But with so many things in their way, will they ever be able to help restore life – and love – to the village?

When I first read the summary and saw the cover for this book, I was immediately intrigued. I sometimes think Regency-era and Gilded Age novels get bogged down in the endless telling of gowns and balls and dances, but for some reason this novel seemed to promise more.

Unfortunately, what the novel promised on the outside didn’t quite seem to hold true on the inside.

I have been so impressed with past novels by Julie Klassen. They each had a bit of mystery and an interesting romance and a fascinating plot that kept me reading. But this one seemed to revolve almost solely around the dancing and the descriptions of dances. It was almost as if the book was written more to teach about dancing masters and their significance during this time period rather than to tell a story. Even the secrets surrounding Julia and her parentage were not enough to keep me interested for very long. I figured out the “mystery” to it very early on, which left little suspense for the rest of the novel. Because of these things, the plot of the novel just moved too slowly for me.

I will say, however, that the romance between Julia and Alec was realistic and didn’t take the sometimes-used road of misunderstandings keeping them apart. It was perfectly believable to me that Julia and Alec would not be able to court, considering his profession and Julia’s mother’s hatred of all things pertaining to dancing. They also were able to spend time talking together and developing a friendship, if nothing else, instead of just mooning over each other (which is a romantic plot device that is fast becoming a pet peeve of mine).

I also enjoyed how the relationship between Julia and her mother developed and matured over the course of the novel. I didn’t connect very well with Julia, since she was extremely headstrong and childish for much of the novel, but it was interesting to see the growth that did take place in the relationship between mother and daughter throughout.

The spiritual aspect of this novel came through fairly clearly overall. It didn’t quite have the depth that I was expecting in relation to Julia’s character. It felt a bit forced. But there was an underlying element of grace and redemption throughout the novel, especially in relation to John Desmond, the one who was responsible for Lady Amelia’s brother’s death all those years ago.

I also feel as if I need to address the similarities to the movie Footloose that is in this book. When I first began reading, it was really hard to shake the comparisons between this book and the movie. A guy who is a master at dancing coming to a town where dancing is forbidden…dancing in this town is forbidden because of the death of a young member of the community…the daughter of the leader of the village getting involved with the dancing guy…it was just too much. At one point some young people in the village, including Alec and Julia, go to a dance in a neighboring town. But as I kept reading, those similarities became less and less. By the end of the book, I was more able to appreciate the novel for what it was rather than as a comparison to a 1980s movie with Kevin Bacon.

(SPOILER: Although the Footloose feel did come back a bit at the end of the book when two certain people dance on May Day in the town square).

I really, really, really wanted to like this book as I have Ms. Klassen’s other books, but the overall presentation was just too slow and repetitious. Even though the history surrounding English country villages and dancing was appealing, and the romance was realistic, the plot wasn’t quite as exciting as I was expecting.

I will give The Dancing Master … 3 BookWorms.

The Dancing Master
by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: January 7, 2014

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