From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Digital Cameras. Laptops. Word documents and Note Apps. In 2015, these and countless other electronic items are used to quickly capture memories and jot down thoughts. But in 1815, the primary means of recording moments and ideas was through paper, pen, and paintbrush. Novels, journals, and artwork show moderns what life was like in the early 1800s, bringing readers and viewers into the thoughts and events of two centuries ago. In The Painter’s Daughter, Julie Klassen’s latest Regency romance set against the backdrop of Devon’s towering cliffs, readers discover a story of secrets and danger, prophecies and hope. But unlike the portraits from the Regency period, “viewers” are not given a glimpse of 1815 through the paint on a canvas, but rather through the story of the painter herself.
March 1815: Captain Stephen Marshall Overtree has only a few short weeks left of shore leave before he returns to the Navy, and he has one last family duty to perform: Locating his wayward brother, Wesley. Stephen digs up his brother’s last address at a painter’s cottage and rides to the small seaside town, Lynmouth. His plan is simple—find Wesley, and return to his blissfully regimented life in the Navy. But his retrieval plan is ruined when on his arrival at the Devon seaside, all he finds is a locked cottage, crates of paintings, and a beautiful woman standing perilously close to a cliff’s edge.
Sophie Dupont never expected Wesley Overtree to abandon her. They had spent months together working on their artwork, and as the days of painting and modeling passed, she had felt her inhibitions drift away as their love grew. He had made her feel as if she were the most precious woman in the world…until he jumped on a boat to Italy, leaving her with boxes of his portraits of her and his unborn child. When Captain Stephen Overtree saves her from a cliff-top plunge as Sophie was grabbing for Wesley’s fallen goodbye note, she has no choice but to pack up the last of Wesley’s belongings—including his scandalous portraits of her—and send them with Stephen.
Despite his sudden attraction to the beautiful but withdrawn Miss Dupont, Stephen plans to put Wesley out of his mind and return to the Navy. But when he catches Sophie in a bout of morning sickness, he realizes that he is in for a bigger plan change than he ever imagined. Knowing his brother’s personality and Sophie’s future as an unwed mother, Stephen offers her a way of escape: to elope with him, gaining security from the Overtree name and family. Despite her lingering feelings for Wesley, Sophie accepts, and within a few days, becomes a wife and new resident at the Overtree family home. What begins as a marriage of convenience slowly morphs into something more, but when an ominous prophecy of Stephen’s impending death is revealed and Wesley returns home, ready to open and make public his crates containing Sophie’s revealing portraits, Sophie and Stephen must decide which is more important: their previous separated lives, or their possible future together.
Up to date, all of Klassen’s Regency novels have been enjoyable and educational reads, and The Painter’s Daughter is no exception. True to form, Klassen includes historical and factual gems, and as always, a unique cast of characters. Before reading The Painter’s Daughter, I didn’t know how long soldiers were on leave in the Regency or that brothers were forbidden to marry their brother’s widow and facts like these coupled with her very human portrayal of sibling rivalry and the effect of pregnancy out of wedlock made for a very interesting read. Sophie was a sympathetic heroine, whose struggle wasn’t so much to become a painter, but to come out from under the shadow of her titles as “the painter’s daughter” and “the painter’s model.” I did wish readers could have seen more of Sophie’s life as an independent painter before Wesley entered the picture, but her struggle to get over her first love and make a new life for herself and her unborn child was a beautiful story to read. I also loved how Klassen followed the pattern of some of her earlier books (like The Girl in the Gatehouse and The Dancing Master) by focusing on another often-ignored part of Regency society: the painters.
I was a little confused about the hero and heroine’s romance, as it seemed rushed and less-developed than some of Klassen’s other novels. Sophie went from seeing Stephen as a forbidding, uncouth, almost ogre of a man, to someone she loves in virtually a few page flips. While her transfer of feelings from Wesley to Stephen was a great decision since Stephen was the more honorable of the two, the transition was more sudden than I wished. The love triangle between Sophie and the two brothers was also occasionally awkward for me to read (and Sophie to experience!) since it involved the fact that Sophie had slept with one and married the other.
Despite these minor confusions, the novel’s beautiful seaside setting, endearing cast of characters, and message of birth, hope, and salvation make The Painter’s Daughter a perfect read during this Christmas season. Enjoy!
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Painter’s Daughter: A Novel, by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2015)
Hardcover, paperback & eBook (464) pages
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Cover image courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2015; text Katie Patchell © 2015, Austenprose.com