Without a Summer ~ Mary Robinette Kowal

  • Title: Without a Summer
  • Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Series: Glamourist Histories #3
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Up-and-coming fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal enchanted fans with award-winning short stories and beloved novels featuring Regency pair Jane and Vincent. In Without a Summer the master glamourists return home, but in a world where magic is real, nothing—even the domestic sphere—is quite what it seems.

Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London.

Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

Review:  I enjoyed this quiet book. Like the previous novels of the series, it’s imbued with Jane Austen’s influence. Add to that love and hatred, family drama and laborers’ uprising, the magic of glamour and bad weather, and, of course, the Irish, and you get a perfect recipe for a rather piquant tale of alternate Regency England.

The protagonist Jane is happily married to her beloved Vincent, a famous glamourist and a friend of the Regent. The war is over. Napoleon is defeated. Both Jane and Vincent are recovered from the traumas they suffered in the previous book. The only thing that mars Jane’s contentment is that her younger sister Melody seems lonely and miserable. Melody wants to get married, but there is a decided lack of eligible gentlemen in the neighborhood of their parents’ estate.

To lift Melody’s moods, Jane invites her with them to London, when Vincent and Jane receive a commission to create a glamoural at the home of a London baron. Surely Melody’s matrimonial prospects would improve in London. 

This innocuous, almost idyllic, Austen-esque beginning gradually morphs into a series of ever deepening intrigues, involving social unrest in the country, Luddites and coldmongers of London, Vincent’s haughty, loathsome father, scheming against his son, and a young Irish aristocrat, falling for Melody.

The story develops slowly and quietly, as the tension builds, and all the seemingly unconnected threads of the plot come together. There are no battles in this novel, except in the court room. No loud heroics either. Instead, the protagonists follow their convictions with proud dignity, unflinchingly supporting their friends and standing up to their enemies.

Jane is in the middle of it all, swinging with the pendulum of strong emotions: love and jealousy, sisterly affection and political suspicions, religious beliefs and class guilt. Her kindness and integrity are put to the utmost test, and although she makes mistakes and continuously doubts her own judgment, in the end, she remains true to her generous heart. Her open femininity and her artistic soul makes her practically unique among the heroines of modern fantasy.

Of the secondary characters, the antagonist of the story, Lord Verbury, Vincent’s father, deserves a special mentioning. If Jane is the epitome of goodness, fallible but incorruptible, this chilly, sociopathic aristocrat is scary in his bottomless hatred for his son. When he was younger, Vincent dared to oppose his father, and now, Lord Verbury would stop at nothing to crash his rebellious offspring. That the author created her ultimate villain almost exclusively through dialog speaks of her marvelous skills.

A lovely novel of love and suspense, and of course, the Irish. This series has really grown on me. And the cover art of this book is simply gorgeous.

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