In Without a Summer by fantasy and science fiction author Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor), she continues her series The Glamourist Histories set in Regency England about the Jane Austen-inspired master glamourists, Jane and David Vincent, with a truly enchanting and magical book set in the year 1816, a year that really was “without a summer.”
1816 was “without a summer,” because the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 spewed so much volcanic ash into the atmosphere that temperatures worldwide were lowered. There was snow on the ground in Washington, D.C. in July. However, in Kowal’s novel Without a Summer, coldmongers get blamed for the unusually cold summer. Somebody or some group of people try to make the coldmongers the scapegoats for the lower temperatures and failing crops.
Kowal loosely based Without a Summer on Jane Austen’s Emma, in that an intelligent woman — the female protagonist, Jane Ellsworth — turns out to be wrong about important things, like Melody’s viewpoint on life and love. However, all, more or less, works out by the end of this brilliant addition to the series.
Jane and her husband, David, travel from Long Parkmeade where Jane’s family lives when they receive a commission from a wealthy family to take down old, shoddy glamour work in a house they bought and put up new glamour that looks more professional. Jane’s father is concerned that a bad harvest might have a negative affect on his other daughter’s, Melody’s, wedding dowry.
Jane gets the idea that she and David can take Melody with them to London for the season, so that she can have the chance to attend balls and meet eligible marriage prospects. In that way, they can kill two birds with one stone.
While the Vincents and Melody are in London, there is a Luddite uprising, and also the populace place the blame for the continued cold weather on the coldmongers. The Vincents rescue a young man who is a coldmonger from a mob who are attacking him. They know that it’s not within the abilities of coldmongers to lower the temperature more than a few degrees for such an extended period of time, and using their abilities at all puts a strain on their general health.
What do glamourists like Jane and David do in Without a Summer?
If you’re unfamiliar with the three novels Kowal has written in The Glamourist Histories and don’t know what glamourists do, they create realistic illusions by manipulating strands of the ether. It’s a type of magic that is similar to knitting. though women generally excel at it more than men, David Vincent is the exception, and he is highly skilled at the craft.
The old way of doing things like manufacturing textiles by hand is being replaced by using modern looms, but the Luddites don’t like the attempt to modernize the textile industry. They riot, and go from shop to shop, busing any looms they find. They tend to also believe in conspiracy theories, like the one about the coldmongers being behind the cold weather, ongoing famine, and high rate on unemployment, assuming that they’re behind the cold weather or that they are working for someone who is responsible for the extension of wintry weather into the summer. A group of Luddites are responsible for attacking the young coldmonger Jane and David rescue.
Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal is a Must Read if you are a fan of Regency era (1811-1820) romance novels, in general, and the novels of Jane Austen and the fantasy genre specifically. During the brief time of social and industrial change that marked the Regency era, the Prince of Wales ruled as Regent in the place of his aging father, King George III.
Mary Robinette Kowal is an accomplished author of fantasy and science fiction as well as being a puppeteer, and she has an uncanny knack for writing in the style of Jane Austen. That makes for a perfect combination of creating page-turning and memorable writing. Kowal has already won various awards, like the 2008 Campbell Award for Best New Writer. In 2011, Kowal also won a Hugo Award for Best Short Story for her tale “For Want of a Nail.”
In Without a Summer, Jane and David find themselves becoming more and more embroiled in solving a crisis that is adversely affecting the entire nation. Jane still tries to arrange social functions like balls for her sister, believing that Melody’s overall mood and outlook on life will improve if she finds suitable husband. However, Jane’s efforts to find Melody a husband often have to take a backseat to both their jobs as glamourists and to putting an end to the cold that has pervaded the summer months. Who, or what, is really behind the extended cold weather, the resultant famine, and increased unemployment? Check out the most recent fantasy novel by Mary Robinette Kowal, Without a Summer, to find out!
Written by: Douglas Cobb