Release date: 1st January 2011
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Target audience: 8+
UK Publisher: Catnip Publishing
The Court Painter’s Apprentice is an atmospheric historical novel with a mysterious twist.
The novel begins with Hugo, an elderly court painter, stopping at an inn for the night. There he spies an extraordinary drawing and asks the innkeeper if he knows the artist. The Innkeeper reveals that the artist is none other than his eleven year old son Johann. Hugo convinces Johann and his parents that he would benefit from an education in the art of portraiture and so Johann becomes Hugo’s apprentice, he leaves the inn behind and begins a journey into a new world.
The story is hugely atmospheric – the scenes at the inn on the stormy night immediately pulled me into the story. Also the new world of life in the studio and workshop jump off the page and are a great example of how setting can really make a story.
The plot of this book was not at all what I expected. I should have paid more attention to the blurb but sometimes I just pick up a book simply because I assume it will be about a particular thing. I wonder if anyone else does that? Sometimes I also choose a book for the age group it is written because of my work and again that was the case with The Court Painter’s Apprentice. I was looking to read a novel for the lower middle grade market. So I was surprised at the dark and sinister twist that this story took. I think it’s quite unusual for a novel aimed at this age group to explore isolation and how it can lead to depression. Yes there are many stories about being an orphan but not about how a choice to follow a dream can see a person lost within their own talent.
The story felt almost ghostly and gothic at times. It defies the current trend for children’s fiction to be abundant with humour and I didn’t mind that at all. However, I did lose the sense of how old Johann was at times through the story. I felt that he was aging but I was confused as to how old he was by the end. Perhaps this was a deliberate decision by the author as Johann lost his childhood self in pursuit of his great talent.
There is a swirling mystery in this book and it centres upon Johann’s unusual gift. Personally I think some of the unexpected happenings were not entirely resolved. Yet I loved the pace of the book and that the author didn’t waste time telling us unnecessary details and descriptions. Despite the confusion I felt at the end of the book, I was riveted all the way through and found it a real page turner. I imagine parents reading this to their children will find their own enjoyment in the mystery and satisfaction in a refreshingly different story. The Court Painter’s Apprentice is an intelligent and compelling novel.
Source: Proof copy sent by Catnip Publishing.