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  • Writer's pictureGrace A. Johnson

Review: Shadows of Swanford Abbey by Julie Klassen

Stars: 3.5

Synopsis: Rebecca Lane returned to her hometown only for a short visit with her brother John...but when he ropes her into his scheme to get his novel published and sends her to the local convent-turned-hotel Swanford Abbey, she ends up confronting the unexpected, including lost love, ghosts, and murder.

I’ve held off on reading anything by Julie Klassen for years now, despite all the good things I’ve heard about her novels, and for the longest time I didn’t have a reason to…until now.

Of course, I probably ought to read another of her works before I swear her off forever (The Painter’s Daughter, perhaps, as it seems to be one of her most popular), but suffice to say that I’m not pleased enough to go out and immediately buy one. I did read the whole thing and it did keep my attention, but it wasn’t until the murder took place that I was really invested enough in it to keep on going.

(This is not an uncommon occurrence, though. It’s like, you done tol’ me somebody was dyin’, woman! Why ain’t they dead yet? And I can be impatient, so…)

From the perspective of a mystery, I do think Klassen pulled it off and, yeah, Christie would be proud. The slow beginning had its merits, as all the suspects were properly developed and defined (more so than the main characters, in fact) and the circumstances were set up well. I do think it was a little too long, though, because I was about to lose interest before Oliver was killed.

As for red herrings? *chef’s kiss * Perfecto! I was kept guessing the whole time, and although I did have my own bias as to who it could’ve been (or at least who was donning the habit and running about), I never did come up with a firm conclusion for fear of being wrong. (I was wrong. Ish.)

The perpetrator was revealed and dealt with in true Christie fashion—although I’d say no one was quite as malicious as a Christie murderer—and at the end, I was rather satisfied with the turn of events concerning Oliver’s murder.

But that was the end of my satisfaction.

As for the romance thread, I think it was subtle enough, only that the culmination of it was a bit rushed. (Is it just me, or are the endings in which either the hero or the heroine suddenly decides to fight for their beloved, dashes up to them and declares their undying affection, and then they live happily ever after for the last two sentences too...cliche?) I will admit, though, that the scene modeled after (or, rather, the exact opposite of) Lady Catherine’s speech in Pride and Prejudice was just too good. I loved that part.

On that note, although the entire secondary cast—from John, Rose, and Lady Fitzhoward, to Thomas, Selina, and Mr. George—were vibrant and developed, I felt that Rebecca and Frederick were lacking that same definition. Frederick seemed to have very little purpose or much of an arc except for interviewing suspects. All he needed, really, was a bit of pain or heartache over the circumstances of his wife’s death that he needed to overcome, as well as some personality. Otherwise, he reminded me of Christie’s Hastings, I guess, detached and distant, I mean. Not romance hero quality, although he was fine for the mystery plot.

As for Rebecca...she wasn’t annoying or obnoxious or unpleasant. She wasn’t really anything, actually. She had very little personality or will, and not much of an arc either, which, as I said, would be fine if this were just a mystery. The romance/drama side just seemed a little lacking on the characters’ parts. Also, as strong of a premise as the mystery was, I didn’t like how it all hinged on Rebecca’s lying. She did repent for her deception, but at times she seemed like more of a villain than a heroine in some ways.

With how long and drawn-out the beginning was, I feel like Klassen could have developed Rebecca and Frederick more and made their personal romantic storyline more defined, rather than the characterization being so unbalanced.

Lastly, I’m sorry to say that I just couldn’t get into Klassen’s writing! I feel like this story and its setting had all the makings of a deep, immersive novel, and I could tell that Klassen was attempting to bring that about; however, she did more showing than telling and her descriptions were limited and awkward at best. I simply couldn’t connect with or enjoy her writing style, which is a shame, for I do so love good prose.

The style of her narrative leaked a bit into her dialogue, for there were several lines that, to me, seemed out-of-place and awkward. I’d pause and lift my eyebrows wondering to myself, “Where did that come from? Whatever was that doing there?” Otherwise, there was at times a rather delightful flavor to her dialogue that I longed for more of in her narrative.

Long story short, I wasn’t able to connect with the writing, the characters, or even really the romance, due to a lack of development and definition. I did, however, enjoy the mystery itself, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up another Klassen novel just yet.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.


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About the Author

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also won the Midwest Book Award, the Minnesota Book Award, and Christian Retailing’s BEST Award, and been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards and ACFW’s Carol Awards. She blogs at

Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.

#bookreview #review #historicalromance #mystery #christianfiction #historicalfiction

Yours in spirit and script,


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