Book Review: The Court Painter’s Apprentice by Richard Knight

The Court Painter's Apprentice by Richard KnightThis is an unusual story. While the writing is suited to its target audience, this short, historical novel has a sophisticated, intelligent and moralistic edge to it, that reminded me very much of the short novels I studied at school (which I used to enjoy, in case you’re thinking that’s a criticism!) I can actually see this one sitting among them quite comfortably.

‘Paint what you see, Johann; not what you think you see.’ This is the advice that Hugo, master portrait painter, gives to his protege, Johann. But Johann’s talent for painting the truth runs deeper than anyone can ever imagine. Johann soon discovers how changing the portraits he paints, can change the lives of his subjects- from fixing the pox-marked skin of a lowly serving girl, to changing the course of history by painting a petulant and spoiled heir to the empire as a noble ruler. But with the power to bring good fortune to those around him, Johann is soon tempted to change his own…


I was drawn to this because, as an artist, and a lover of historical novels, it sounded perfect. I can’t immediately think of any junior or young adult fiction that touches on an artist’s life throughout this period. From my point of view, I loved the small insights into what life was like a poor artist’s apprentice, learning the trade, the process of creating and stretching the canvas, the care and time that went into mixing the paint; skills which are no longer passed down in a world where you can buy everything ready-made. I found it a refreshingly different subject, though I’m less certain it will hold a wide appeal for a younger audience.

The Court Painter’s Apprentice is quite a dark story that explores themes of isolation, greed and vanity. The main character, Johann, is a driven, serious and isolated protagonist that readers may have a little difficulty connecting with ( I know I did). But The Court Painter’s Apprentice surprised me. In the final chapters the story takes a dramatic turn, one I wasn’t at all expecting, but which I actually loved.

Some readers may find this story a little dry, and while I feel the ending was far too abrupt, I think it is a solid read and I quite enjoyed it, though it’s not a book I would re-read. The Court Painter’s Apprentice is an old-fashioned, atmospheric and surprisingly, creepy, tale that brings to mind the works of Charles Dickens’ Signalman and The Monkey’s Paw by W.W Jacobs.

*Many thanks to UK Book Tours for making this available for review*


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