Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
Without a Summer (Glamourist Histories)
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(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“After a dramatic trip to Belgium, Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The spring is unseasonably cold, and no one wants to be outside. Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a poor one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given an inadequate selection of eligible bachelors locally.
When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent London family, they take it, and bring Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London. Talk here frequently turns to increased unemployment of coldmongers and riots in nearby villages by Luddites concerned that their way of life is becoming untenable. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, which does not really help Melody’s chances for romance. It doesn’t take long for Jane and Vincent to realize that in addition to arranging a wedding, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of national proportions.”
It’s been a pleasure to watch Kowal grow as a novelist. Without a Summer manages to walk the fine line between fantasy and Jane Austen’s Regency era stories. Since I’m an Austen addict as well as a lover of fantasy novels, this pleased me quite a bit. There are lots of scenes of London society of all levels, the shops and public areas, and a few get-togethers. There’s also enough action to keep the story moving along, but not so much that it breaks the ambience of a Regency novel. The intrigue and political maneuvering add to the tension in the story’s events.
Not only does the author excel at mixing genres, but her characterization is wonderful. Jane and Vincent are a well-matched couple, but they are human and fallible. Their relationship isn’t perfect, and there are situations that arise that test their love and trust in each other. What I liked was how the author didn’t make their conflicts filled with dramatic declarations and effusive emotions. There is tension, to be sure, but their differences are resolved with maturity. Problems are not forgotten, but they are worked through. It was nice to see a more realistic portrayal of a married couple.
The part of the plot dealing with Melody’s marriage prospects is woven in with some actual historical fact. There really was a year called the Year Without a Summer, and it was caused by a volcanic eruption that spewed ash into the atmosphere. The event is mentioned in the story, and its effects play a large part of the conflict between magic users and those who yearn for a more temporal power. As Kowal points out in a historical note, this was a time of upheaval in England, and a pervasive theme in this novel is that of changes in the social order. Industrialization began changing many people’s way of life, and here the mistrust of certain forms of magic adds to the problems.
Kowal’s Glamourist Histories has become one of my favorite fantasy series. It combines the best of two disparate genres into a unique and engrossing whole. Without a Summer is a novel of manners and magic that will draw readers in to a world both like and unlike any they’ve ever known.
Also by this author: Glamour in Glass, Shades of Milk and Honey
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on May 20, 2013.