Without a Summer
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Cover Artist: Larry Rostant
Review by Gayle Surrette
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765334152
Date: 02 April 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In Without a Summer, Mary Robinette Kowal manages to deftly weave a story around events of 1816, such as the Luddite attacks on industrial weaving looms and the agricultural and societal impacts of a year without a summer. While this world is not our own, but an alternate Regency period with magic or glamour, Kowal manages to tie these incidents of our world together with a plot that is not so different from one that would be just as exciting and dangerous if it had taken place in our world without glamour. Fear of the unknown can drive many a plot irregardless of genre.
Jane Ellsworth Vincent and her husband, David Vincent, are now Lord and Lady Vincent since their return from France and their assistance to the Crown during the Battle of Quatre Bras. They are recovering at the Long Parkmeade with Jane's family in the country.
Melody, Jane's younger sister, is depressed. When Jane and Vincent accept a commission to create a glamural for the Baron and Lady Stratton in London, they offer to take Melody with them, to give her a season in London. Jane feels that she can find Melody a husband which will give her sister a situation of her own.
Time doesn't work and Melody is often left alone. Melody is more mature now and fills her time, but all the hours alone do not help her depression. Spending time at the Strattons, Melody meets their son, Alastar O'Brien. When Jane believes that Melody may be falling for Mr. O'Brien, she takes steps to separate them. Meanwhile Jane begins to suspect that Mr. O'Brien may be in a plot of some sort.
That's the set up, but the real story revolves around family loyalties, prejudices, intolerance, ambition, and a lot of misdirection and misunderstandings. The story builds slowly at first but once all the players are in place the plot moves along a fairly quick pace with a lot of courage, forgiveness -- not to mention twist, surprises, and political intrigue -- to a very satisfying ending for some of the characters.
The story takes place during the Regency period and has a strong flavor of Austen's writings. Fans of Jane Austen will see Mrs. Ellsworth as a near clone of Mrs. Bennet. In Shades of Milk and Honey, Jane and Melody had a relationship similar to Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, though now Melody has matured beyond that characterization.
While the series may resonate with those who are familiar with the works of Jane Austen, and Kowal's stories are definitely in tune with the Regency period, they also speak to the readers of today. When you write about people's lives large and small, their problems are not all that dissimilar to those people face today.