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Without a Summer
by Mary Robinette Kowal
TOR, 381 pp, $15.99
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
This is the third novel in Kowal’s “Glamourist’s Histories.” She has really gotten her stride here with this novel, not that the last one had issues, but this is just an easy, smooth tale and her characters are comfortable with their world.

This is also really more of a straightforward Regency intrigue than a tale of magic. There is plenty going on. The glamourists, David and Jane Vincent have settled into their lives as excellent artists who utilize the ether (magic) to create multi-layered images inside rooms and outside buildings—trees with singing birds, breezes wafting flower perfumes through a dining room; even the ability to create a Sphere Obscurcie - a bubble of magic which makes the person inside invisible to others.

Because the Vincents did work for the Prince Regent (this tale is set in 1816) their services are much in demand. They settle on creating a glamour in the London house of Baron Stratton and his wife to hide their musician’s gallery behind a glamural of song birds. Doing this job will also provide an excellent reason to take Jane’s younger sister Melody to London for the Season and to, hopefully, find her a beau.

Everyone wants a change. The weather has been very cold and damp, winter has not turned into spring---there is still snow in late April. The bad weather has threatened crops and everyone one believes it is the work of the “coldmongers” those who can utilize ether to preserve food a little longer and cool off houses in the summer. (The actual culprit for the unseasonable cold is the historically accurate huge volcanic explosion on the island of Tambora in the East Indies which sent so much ash up that Washington D.C. got snow in July!). Also to add to the general unrest are unemployed soldiers who have returned from the Napoleonic war and the Luddites…those who resisted the change from homemade woven goods to large factories producing cheaper cloth (i.e.: the start of the Industrial Revolution).

How all this affects the Vincents begins with Melody falling in love with the Stratton’s son Alastar O’Brien.

The Strattons are Irish Catholics and Jane is under the impression a Catholic can’t marry someone outside their faith (when indeed, the Pope ruled that they could). And of course, Irish Catholics cannot have a seat in Parliament. So Jane feels Alastar is toying with Melody’s affections so she does her best to discourage the romance.

To also complicate things, Lord Verbury, David’s father comes back into their lives. And both Jane and David are suspicious of this as Lord Verbury and David are not only estranged but Verbury disowned David for taking up the “feminine” pursuit of glamour. (Though I am not sure why this is the father’s feeling: almost every glamourist mentioned in these novels, save Jane, has been a man….)

What Jane and David become aware of is that Lord Verbury seems to be involved in a plot to incite the coldmongers (much like the Luddites) into active revolt and a march in London is planned. It’s well known that Lord Verbury wants the position of Lord Chancellor currently held by Lord Eldon. And he still reveals his strong distaste for his son’s chosen endeavors---even though David is the third son and not likely to be the next Earl. To add to the intrigue: Jane has seen Alastar conversing with Lord Verbury and Lord Verbury’s daughter has a footman Jane has seen in suspicious places.

Tensions rise and at the march all hell breaks loose. The Vincents who involved themselves in the protest are arrested, along with Alastar, for treason and there’s a trial and…well this book just trucks along briskly. You won’t be bored.

 (However, we never did find out just what Melody discussed with Prince Regent…..) ~~ Sue Martin

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