Book Review: The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen

By Thursday, December 17, 2015 , , ,

Get ready for a treat, dear readers. If you like historical fiction or share my love of England, then this newest book from Julie Klassen is for you! I’ve written on her books before (here and here), as she’s recently become one of my favorite authors, and I’d now firmly plant The Painter’s Daughter in my top three favorites from Klassen, which you know is quite a statement if you already love her work! 

Setting and Background: 
The curtain opens on the idyllic coastal town of Lynmouth in Devonshire, England in 1815, and Sophia Margaretha Dupont, our painter’s daughter and a dabbling artist herself, is in quite a pickle. Roguishly handsome Wesley Overtree has left Lynmouth and sailed for Italy to pursue his own artistic dreams, leaving behind a pregnant and fearful Sophie. It’s in this state that she meets Captain Stephen Overtree, Wesley’s younger and more responsible brother, when he arrives in Lynmouth in search of wayward Wesley. Frustrated and anxious, Stephen feels strangely protective of Sophie, so he offers a solution. He proposes a marriage of convenience that would save her from scandal and allow her and her child to live with the respectability of his name and protection. Desperate, Sophie sees no other option, and so finds herself married to a man she doesn’t know, but in whom she soon finds an odd sense of safety. The plot thickens when she meets the Overtree family and when tensions between France and England rise, making Stephen’s future more uncertain as he soon must return to his military duties. 

Themes and Characters: 
What a story! I was loath to return to the 21st century and resurface from the smells of paint and sounds of crashing waves on the English coast when it ended. As she always does, Julie Klassen filled The Painter’s Daughter with fascinating historical details and educational gold mines. The themes of art and the war with France were well researched and described so vividly. I could picture everything in detail and feel Sophie relax when she retreated to her painting studio that Stephen organized for her (be still my heart!). There are also a few intense sequences that describe battles and details of Stephen’s military life that I appreciated. It deepened his character and of course gave helpful insight into the political strife England was facing at the time. 
I thought this would be a fun visual to share. This is a coastal path leading up to the Valley of the Rocks in Devon, England. The Valley of the Rocks and the surrounding towns are featured heavily in The Painter's Daughter. I could fairly smell the sea brine and feel the rocky path from the descriptions!
{Photo Credit: WikiMedia}

And oh, these characters! I’m always so impressed with Julie Klassen’s ability to create a memorable cast of characters, and these are some wonderful ones. Sophie is easy to sympathize with from the start. You feel her confusion, hurt, and anxiety keenly, and she matures most throughout the book. Her friendship with Kate Overtree, Stephen and Wesley’s sister, is especially sweet. Kate is lively, unaffected, and helps Sophie laugh when she most needs it. Stephen fits the dark, brooding hero ideal perfectly. He may now be my favorite hero of Julie Klassen’s creation. He reminded me so much of Ross Poldark from Winston Graham’s Poldark novels and Masterpiece’s new Poldark TV series. His strength, gentleness, and protection of Sophie endear him quickly, but there are also struggles beneath a stern exterior that he works through over the story’s course. Wesley is a convincing rogue, but we also hear much of the story from his perspective, which makes him more understandable at the same time. Overall, I loved watching all of them develop through the plot twists for which Julie Klassen is so praised. 

Other General Reactions: 
Speaking of plot twists, let me just tell you, this book was a stomach cramper, page-turner, tearjerker, and everything in between. My heart raced, my palms sweated, and I cried so much. I actually put it down in frustration more than once because I kept thinking, “How on EARTH will ANY of this be resolved in a satisfying manner?” But oh, keep reading, friends! Unexpected turns are one of Julie Klassen’s strengths, and she used it to its fullest in this book. There are many times that things look hopeless, but the conclusion is more than satisfying, and the journey makes it that much sweeter! This story also contains strong notes of faith and redemption that are more pronounced than in many of Klassen’s previous novels, which enriched this particular book exponentially. Prayer and forgiveness play vital roles in Sophie’s development, and I loved watching her grow in strength and trust in the Lord through her roller coaster of a journey. 

And of course, what would a Julie Klassen novel be without nods to Jane Eyre and Jane Austen? Overtree Hall is a mysterious old house with secret passages and odd noises at night, lending a slightly gothic feel similar to Jane Eyre. What’s more, many lines from Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice are coyly placed throughout the book, and Kate gushes numerous times about her love of a new novel called Sense and Sensibility. These were so fun to notice, and I especially enjoyed that those particular novels were acknowledged, as they are two of my favorite Austen works. 

Be ready for late nights and quick dinners when you pick this one up, friends. It’s probably the most stress-inducing and heart-melting story I’ve read all year, which is saying a lot! And everything culminates with a beautiful sigh of contentment at the very end. Read it and read it soon! 

Have you read The Painter’s Daughter yet? Have you read anything else by Julie Klassen? What are your favorite books by her or by authors of her genre? I’d love to hear!

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