Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

withoutsummer

“Jane, Lady Vincent could never be considered a beauty, but possessed of a loving husband and admirable talent, had lived thirty years in the world with only a few events to cause her any true distress or vexation. She was the eldest of two daughters of a gentleman in the neighbourhood of Dorchester. In consequence of her mother’s nerves, Jane had spent the better part of her youth acting as mother to her younger sister, Melody. Her sister had received nature’s full bounty of beauty, with all the charms of an amiable temper. At the age of twenty, it was therefore surprising to find Melody not only unmarried, but without any prospects.”

And so we learn from the opening paragraph, that this book, the third in the Glamourist Histories series, will feature more of Melody, who surprises all, especially her older sister, when she turns out to be more than just a pretty face.

Jane admires her sister’s beauty, being a bit of a plain, er, Jane herself. Especially since her sister is quite becoming, both in terms of physical beauty (set off by her well-chosen wardrobe) and her charm (knowing what to say and when).

“Jane could not help but notice the picture her sister made as they were escorted through the palace interior and to the grounds behind it. Over her dress, she wore her celestial-blue Hessian pelisse, which fastened with broad ornamental frogs up to her throat in the manner of an officer’s uniform. The regularity of the braids cast the swell of her bosom into graceful contrast. Her gold curls were piled onto her head and peeked becomingly from beneath a high-crowned hat that had been trimmed with blue and white ostrich features. She carried before her a muff as white as a cloud against the sky.”

Jane’s concerns at the moment, besides her work which has brought her and Vincent to London, is with introducing her sister to the eligible young men of London:

“Is it necessary for you to throw me at every young man who appears?”

Of a sudden, the room felt overwarm as Jane blushed deeply. “I did not know that my efforts were so transparent.”

“La! I dare say half the room knows that I am for sale.”

Then there is that simple matter of meeting Vincent’s estranged family for the first time. His father, the scheming and dark Lord Verbury, his guileful sister Lady Penelope, and his quiet and unassuming mother, among a host of others.

So wrapped up is she in these rather pressing matters (as well as some political intrigue) that she hardly sees her sister for who she really is.

“We talk politics. I am becoming quite bookish. I am even thinking of acquiring spectacles.”

Jane laughed aloud at the thought of her sister as pedantic scholar. “Forgive me. I do not doubt your intelligence, but it is hard to picture you as an old maid with your hair pulled back and spectacles settled upon your nose.”

We mustn’t forget the world of glamour they live in. For Vincent and Jane are highly regarded glamourists, the Prince Regent’s glamourists. And as they arrange their threads and weave their folds, they are constantly thinking of their coldmonger colleagues, who weave a different glamour of their own, working with cold, as their occupation states.

It’s not the easiest thing to describe, this glamour, it’s ethereal and yet when fastened properly, is quite lasting. It is used mostly for frivolous purposes, such as glamurals at parties and events, but as we had seen in Glamour in Glass, also can be used for military purposes, such as creating a sphere obscurie to hide oneself, or troops.

“With a flash of colour like a prism dropping through sunlight, the glamour shivered into a rainbow.”

It is a complicated procedure and some can take days, weeks of work.

“To someone whose eyes were only adjusted to the visible world, Vincent appeared to be waving his hands at random while washes of colour came into view overhead. When Jane let her vision expand to include the ether, his real work became apparent. Vincent pulled skeins of pure glamour and folded their light to his whims. Almost like a puppet showman working a marionette upside down, he wove a pattern on the ceiling with the folds.”

It’s a little bit of fantasy, a little bit of Regency romance, set in Jane Austen’s time, and with some rioting and politicking thrown in. Plus there are intelligent female characters, one of whom actually works (as opposed to sitting around and trimming bonnets), and the other is bookish. My library has deemed fit to label it as ‘Science Fiction’ (the shelves of which encompass fantasy), but to those who think fantasy/SF isn’t quite their cup of tea, it’s worth a try. Kowal has created a brilliant series, inspired by Jane Austen’s works, but truly, magically, her very own.

It looks like the fourth book, Valour and Vanity, will be out in April this year. Can’t wait!

Mary Robinette Kowal’s Bibiliography

Novels
Shades of Milk and Honey, Tor Books, 2010
Glamour in Glass, Tor Books, 2012
Without a Summer, Tor Books, 2013

Collections
Scenting the Dark and Other Stories, Subterranean Press, 2009

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