Review & Blog Tour | “Jane and the Year Without a Summer” by Stephanie Barron

Happy Sunday! Today’s post is something exciting to share with you all – I was so glad to be asked to participate in the Blog Book Tour for Stephanie Barron’s new novel, Jane and the Year Without a Summer. It’s my turn to host and share my review, so without further ado, let’s chat about this new book, which was only just released on February 8th! 

Jane and the Year Without a Summer takes us to May 1816. As any Austen fan knows, this is only just over a year away from Jane Austen’s premature death at the age of 41, from what historians now think may have been Addison’s disease. 

Barron begins with Jane aware of the changes in her body and health, but 1816 was also a time of upheaval for the Austen family: her brother Henry’s bank has just folded, and her other brother Charles’ ship has been wrecked, and they are waiting for word of him. Jane’s apothecary has recommended she spend time in Cheltenham Spa to take to the waters, so she uses some of the profits from Emma (favoured of course by the Prince Regent!) to take her and her beloved sister Cassandra for some time at the spa. 

When we arrive in Cheltenham, we immediately meet a beguiling cast of characters that soon embroil Jane and Cassandra in a peculiar mystery. First, there is the beautiful Miss Williams, confined to a basket chair and often swooning in a way that Jane is not convinced is genuine, and her companion, Miss Fox; the kind but mysterious Mrs Smith who works at the theatre; the cantankerous brother and sister duo Mr and Miss Garthwaite, and their sweet pug Thucydides; and the gentle Captain Pellew. 

“Jane and the Year Without a Summer” book cover! Isn’t it lovely?

Beginning with the sudden death of Thucydides, and resulting in a very dramatic turn at a masquerade ball, the stories of each character unravel and become incredibly intertwined with the arrival of others in pursuit of them in the supposedly calm spa town. 

I don’t want to spoil anything about the story (especially because Barron gives us some spectacular twists and turns that I certainly didn’t expect), but I will say we are also treated to a little whisper of romance between Jane and Raphael West, son of the famous painter Benjamin West (and a painter himself). But, with Jane increasingly aware of her own declining health, much of the looking forward is affected by quite a sombre tone, with the reader of course knowing her soon-to-be fate.

Barron’s novel is incredibly well-researched, with interesting historical details that I’d never learned about before and with the addition of notes that are helpful to any reader interested in the context of her book. For instance, I didn’t know the Year Without A Summer was actually a period experienced during this time: when Mount Tambora in the South Pacific erupted, it caused a volcanic winter that affected the weather systems across the whole world for sixteen months. I’m definitely going to be reading more about this! 

Alongside this, Jane and Cassandra really did spend two weeks in Cheltenham Spa (which is very interesting in itself, as they are so associated with Bath, and that is something Barron has Jane explicitly discuss in the novel), but of course, Cassandra being her biggest correspondent, there are no letters to her during this sojourn. In the Author’s Note at the end, Barron explains how she managed to weave the historical research and find out more about what the two sisters experienced at Cheltenham. I really love it when authors of historical fiction include resources and notes about their research process, I think it’s just generally very helpful!

The writing, as well, is charmingly in keeping with that of early nineteenth-century novels, and I particularly enjoyed her use of spellings I’ve seen in Austen’s own novels. Also, I can’t not mention the way some lines from some of Austen’s novels quietly work their way in – it was so subtly and masterfully done, but enjoyable for any Austen fan to see! 

Also, I didn’t realise that this is Book 14 in a series called Being A Jane Austen Mystery – you just know I’ll be going back to explore all the other mysteries in the series now! I like that the wittiness of Austen is combined with the instincts to solve mysteries, it works so well.

Thank you so much to Soho Press and Austenprose for gifting me a copy of Jane and the Year Without a Summer in exchange for an honest review, and congratulations to Stephanie Barron on the publication of her new novel!

3 comments

  1. Famously this was also the year that gave rise to Shelley’s Frankenstein, so it’s interesting to have a different literary take on this global event. I think I may need to seek this out!

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lizzie. This is such an interesting time in history. I enjoyed how Barron works actual events into the plot. She channels Austen so convincingly that I feel like she is talking to me. I am glad you enjoyed it as well.

    • Thank you so much Laurel Ann – it really was, it was great to hear more about events that don’t always make it into fiction/tv shows for this period. Yes! The command of writing in Austen’s voice was amazing! So fun to read.

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