Emma Smallwood and her father leave their Longstaple failing boarding school academy for cliff top Ebbington Manor on the Cornwall Coast where Mr. Smallwood is to tutor young male twins. After an awkward reception as if they were not expected, they are housed in the north wing with warnings not to venture into the south wing. As the plot progresses we are aware of secrets harboring in the manor.
The book is populated with a multitude of characters, some likeable, some not. Henry and Phillip were pupils at Lonstaple and share a history with Emma. Henry is the eldest Weston brother, foul-tempered when young and complex as he ages. Phillip is kind and shares a mutual crush with Emma. Emma’s father tutors their younger half brothers, Rowan and Julian Weston. Friendly and inquisitive Lizzie Henshaw is an effective contrast to the disapproving, cold Lady Violet Weston.
At Ebbington, Emma experiences harassment, hears sad piano music at night, and smells a man’s soap when she enters her bedroom. A secret admirer pushes love notes under her door while she sleeps. She is alternately suspicious of most people in the house except her father. Emma writes in her journal every night and suddenly discovers it is missing. The reader is signaled of ongoing mystery as lightening strikes during uncomfortable moments in the narrative and the wind whips across the Cornwall coast.
Klassen writes in the style of Jane Austen and her love of the Regency Period shine through her novels. Here she blends historical fiction with a dash of mystery and romance. The author’s note tells us that one of Jane Austen’s brothers was sent to live in a nearby town because of a disability. He became the inspiration for the character, Adam Weston.
Although it is a bit forced, mystery lurks in the corridors of Ebbington manor. Reverence for learning is in the background of this novel. Solid prose and imagery combine vivid description. Her characterization of the enigmatic Henry is superb. Nevertheless, The Tutor’s Daughter doesn’t hit the mark of Klassen’s previous novels.
Bethany House Publishers graciously supplied a review copy for my unbiased opinion.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont.
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