Without a Summer

Without a Summer - Mary Robinette Kowal After reading the first novel in Kowal's Glamourist Histories series, I was concerned that the following novels didn't seem to have anywhere else to go. The first novel was very much in the style of the regency romance, and in such novels the pairing of the main character and her chosen is usually the end of the story. I have never been so happily mistaken.

The second novel gave us the continent, and the return of Napoleon from Elba as our key action sequences. This novel keeps us closer to home - London, and a tension filled charge of treason.

In previous novels we have heard of Vincent's poor relationship with his overbearing father. This relationship, and the character of the two men in contrast, is very much at the center of this story. We see the strength of Vincent's character far more strongly in comparison with his father's scheming, and his petty minded nastiness that shocks against the mores of the time.

The central conflict of much of the first half of the book is powered by a series of misunderstandings, in true romance novel fashion. I don't much enjoy this particular plot device, however the misunderstandings are all understandable in their way, follow quite naturally from what we have learned of the characters over the series, and are themselves followed by a series of events both powerful and believable. In the final, tension filled scenes the characters acquit themselves with style and are rightly vindicated.

Acting as both a plot device and a backdrop against all of this is the changing London of the times. Poverty is rife in city, fueled by the early starts of industrialisation, such as the introduction of looms and weaving machines, and further exacerbated by the discharge of thousands of soldiers and sailors no longer required now that the Napoleonic wars have drawn to a close. Additions brought in by the magical side of the world-building are also revealed, such as the specialised glamourists called coldmongers whose guild is comprised primarily of young boys, complement and fit in with the history beautifully.

All of this historical background is woven into the story with a deft hand, so much so that it is absorbed almost without notice - a skill that is often sadly overlooked when performed well, but woefully obvious when absent. Kowal is remarkably good at this, never once in any of the three books does anything jar the reader out of enjoyment of the scenes with exposition or awkward devices designed to pass this information on.

The first book was compared to Jane Austen by many readers and reviewers, and indeed it was not an unfair comparison to make with regards to either style or substance. The second novel took a long step away from this with a plot focused on war, the military, and the tragedy that befalls both Vincent and Jane as they get swept up in it.

By this third book, the comparison is being made perhaps out of rote, rather than with any real feeling, and is no longer fair or valid. The charm of the Austenesque prose remains, as does the regency setting, however the series has now evolved into something entirely different. Kowal has made something of her own here, unique and beautiful and a pleasure to read.

I could write more, but I am anxious to move on to the next one.