Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
Lady Jane and Sir David Vincent, a husband and wife team of glamourists, accept a commission in London and take Jane’s sister with them, in hopes of broadening her prospects for marriage; in the process, they become embroiled in treasonous conspiracies and familial tribulations that threaten far more than their marital content.
England in 1816 is cold and dreary, and staying with her family for an extended visit is a pleasure wearing thin for Jane and her husband. When they are invited to London to create a glamural (a mural created by magic, or “glamour”) in the ballroom of a baron, the couple accepts. Melody, Jane’s younger, unmarried sister, has few prospects in their rural neighborhood, so they take her with them. Melody meets Mr. O’Brien, son and heir to their client, and they are mutually interested. Jane learns the family is Irish Catholic, however, and discourages a match. More disturbing, Jane meets Vincent’s father, an earl who cast his son off when he pursued the art of glamour. Despite the couple’s success, including commissions from the Prince Regent himself, the Earl of Verbury maintains a cool attitude with them, which moves toward malice as the plot unfolds. Events in England are tumultuous. It is the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, which affects society in unexpected ways, and the unseemly weather (based on actual historic events related to the eruption of Mt. Tambora) creates even more unrest and uncertainty, which place Jane, Vincent and Mr. O’Brien in dangerous territory.
Kowal has penned a wonderful Regency romance/fantasy crossover with fascinating tidbits of and nods to history. The characters are unique and authentic, whether they are heroes or villains, and include a surprising degree of human foible. At the heart of the successful story are an intriguing world built around a clever concept of everyday magic and a sweet, unconventional marriage of two oddly yet perfectly matched partners. A creative, elegantly crafted novel that combines magical elements, historical intrigue, and both a broad and an intimate canvas of human weakness and virtue. –Kirkus Reviews