Book: “Without a Summer” by Mary Robinette Kowal
Publishing Info: Tor Books, April 2013
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description: Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside and 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 continue on with my reviews of this series! As I commented on in the first reviews, the books’ ties to the Jane Austen novels that the author attempts to mimic has been the difference maker between my enjoyment levels of the first two in the series. The first tried to tie it too closely to “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility,” leaving original characterization and plot to suffer. While the second seemed to step away completely from this format presenting readers with a completely original story and being stronger for it. This third book strikes on the perfect balance of the two with its very loose connections to “Emma” while also building on its original stories and characters.
I was most excited when picking up this book to realize that Melody was again going to play a central role to the story. Her absence was one of the few low points of the second book, in my opinion. And she was featured even more than I originally thought! Jane, back home with her husband Vincent and now recovered from her experiences and trauma dealt in the end of the last book, is realizing how alone and sad her sister is feeling. Country living just doesn’t have enough variety, particularly in the potential husband arena. So, upon receiving a commission for Jane and Vincent’s work on a glamoural for a wealthy family in London, Jane decides the change of scenery would do her sister good. And so we begin to see the set up and ties to “Emma” in this story, with Jane standing in as our poor, struggling matchmaker.
As I said, this book really seemed to hit on the formula for emulating, but not becoming bogged down by, an original Austen work. Only the loosest ties to “Emma” are visible (and three lines from the novel, for those looking closely!). Jane makes many mistakes as a matchmater, but they are of a different variety than Emma’s, both due to differences in their personality and position. Jane is a married woman, so her own romantic confusion is not involved in this. Further, Jane is a very different character than Emma. Emma is lovable for her blissful naivety. Jane is a much more earnest character and one who is used to being on the right side of most conflicts.
I actually found this to be a very interesting take on a matchmaking failure, and one that can speak to a quandary that many people can find themselves in. In many ways, Jane is a very open-minded, justice-oriented character. In the last several books, she is always on the right side of situations that deal with prejudice and injustice. So, in this way, its not surprising that she has become a bit complacent with her own perception of the world, sure that she does not fall into the same traps that other, less wary and more judgemental, people do. But alas, we can guess how this turns out! I really enjoyed this take as it is a pitfall that I think many of us can fall into, becoming falsely secure in our own perception of the world and failing to recognize that we are still susceptible towards opinions and thoughts that are convenient and not as open-minded as we may think. Vincent’s sly hints that she might be a bit off track were also great. It was a nice little wink to the maneuverings of marriage where battles must be picked carefully and opinions offered gently.
The other main storyline of this book was the complete and utter awfulness that is Vincent’s family. We’ve heard about his past some in the previous books, but here we get to meet the whole cast and man, weren’t they all just a bundle of joy. His father in particular reached truly astonishing levels of evil. There were a few scenes where they are all getting together for family gatherings, and just coming of Christmas, which can have familial challenges for some, I think we can all just count ourselves lucky that at least it wasn’t this. The snark was high with these ones.
The pacing of this book was a bit strange, I have to admit. The first half is fairly slow, with a lot of groundwork being laid, but not a lot of action coming of it. But the book did take a big, unexpected turn towards the end that really brought a new life to the story. While the resolution was very convenient, I did enjoy the tension that was brought to the story in this last third.
All in all, I think this book was a great addition to the series. I enjoyed the ties to “Emma,” but was relieved to find that the story was still also very much its own thing. The action towards the end was appreciated, and I’m excited to see where the books will go next and if we’ll see any other Jane Austen storylines! As long as its not “Northanger Abbey”…
Rating 7: Series seems to be still going strong!