Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron – Book Review
From the desk of Syrie James
I have a soft spot in my heart for the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron. Reading them is a bit like time traveling back in time. The books are all expertly researched, a seamless blend of fact and fiction full of fascinating period and personal details. Because they are written in the first person, and because Austen’s voice is so impeccably done, we have the great pleasure of living for a little while inside Jane Austen’s mind.
Jane and the Year Without a Summer is the 14th book in the series, and a welcome addition to the canon. The title refers to the bleak state of the weather that affected the entire planet that year, caused by a distant volcanic eruption. It is the summer of 1816 and Jane, not feeling up to snuff, visits the spa town of Cheltenham to try its curative waters (which prove to be undrinkable). Having been to Bath many times myself but never to Cheltenham, I was intrigued to learn about this city, and to recognize the many similarities between the two places.
While in Cheltenham, Jane of course has a series of adventures that involve murder and mayhem and the solving of mysteries. We are treated to a reappearance of Mr. Raphael West, a charming gentleman and romantic interest of Jane’s, as well as a cast of new, intriguing characters, most of whom are entirely the product of Barron’s imagination—and all so realistically depicted that they come to brilliant life on the page.
We get among other things a pugnacious pug named Thucydides, a Doomsday-predicting Evangelist, a gallant Royal Navy Captain, a Viscount who formerly served in Her Majesty’s Dragoons, a beautiful but petulant Wollstonecraft devotee, a mysterious theatre dialect coach named Mrs. Smith (you know that has to be an alias, right?), an eventful masquerade ball in honor of the King’s birthday and Princess Charlotte’s nuptials, and enough secrets to keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what Ms. Barron has up her sleeve.
I really enjoyed this novel. It is, I suppose necessarily, a bittersweet read because Jane’s illness permeates the story, and it’s hard not to think about the fact that she is going to die from that same illness about a year later. It’s always a delight, however, to spend time with Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen, a woman whose cleverness and wit goes beyond the writing of novels, and who employs her gifts and talents to the solving of mysteries. I will be so sorry to see this series end!
Jane and the Year Without a Summer is a page-turning story, imbued with fascinating historical detail, a cast of beautifully realized characters, a pitch-perfect Jane Austen, and an intriguing mystery. Highly recommended.
- Title: Jane and the Year Without a Summer
- Series: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 14)
- Author: Stephanie Barron
- Genre: Historical Mystery, Austenesque
- Publisher: Soho Press (February 8, 2022)
- Length: (336) pages
- Format: Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook
PURCHASE LINKS available at Stephanie’s website.
Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written twenty-five books, including five novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light, and Death on Nantucket) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the penname, Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado.
Does this novel intrigue you? Have you read any of the other books in the Being A Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron? If so, I’d love to hear what you think!
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