Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal is the third of her Glamourist Histories series, following Shades of Milk & Honey, and Glamour in Glass. The series crosses Regency romances with alternate (but not terribly alternate) history and a dash of domestic magic that may yet admit of industrial applications.

The edition I have (trade paperback from the UK publisher) has quite a typo on the back jacket copy, advancing the main characters — Jane and David Vincent — 100 years, into the summer of 1916. Needless to say, the book takes place in 1816, less than a year after the end of Glamour in Glass.

Napoleon has been banished, but all is not well in England. Winter will not go away, and unrest is abroad in the land. The Luddites are smashing looms; people are blaming the coldmongers (magicians whose more usual duties include refrigerating food or making ice) for the neverending winter; and the army is being called out against rebels in the north.

The story brings Jane and David in to London from the countryside, with Jane’s younger sister in tow as something of a debutante. Except that Jane and her husband are too busy with their artistic commission to do much chaperoning and supervising; suddenly they are worried that Melody’s efforts to find a husband will either fail completely or succeed prematurely.

We find out more about David’s upbringing in the household of an Earl, and there is — early on — some doubt about whether the Earl was as sadistic as David had hinted in earlier novels, or whether he might not have been misreading his own family.

We also see Jane making mistakes in her personal relations, which is good, because she could easily have drifted into Mary Sue territory.

The plot thickens as one of Melody’s potential suitors may be involved with standing up for the poor (something monarchy, even Regency, tends to take a dim view of), or might also be conspiring with David’s father, who is certainly deep into political intrigues. Mistakes, misdirections, and eventually both alarums and excursions. Which last land all of the protagonists in dire straits, leading up to a courtroom climax.

Without a Summer was satisfying and fun, character-driven in a way that an extended series allows, and full of the charm of glamourous magic.

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    • Jessie Smiley on November 10, 2014 at 7:30 pm
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    Alright, you talked me into it. I thought I was done with this series after Shades of Milk and Honey, for that book was written in a style sufficiently close to Jane Austen’s that comparison between them was inevitable and made it impossible for me simply to enjoy Kowal’s style for itself. Not-quite-Jane was far worse for me than not-at-all Jane, despite the enhancements Kowal added to move her book into the realm of fantasy. However, it sounds like there is much more to enjoy here than milieu and style, after all. I’m going to give these next two books a go.

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