REVIEW: Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron

Updated: Feb 9


About the book: May 1816. Jane Austen is feeling unwell, with an uneasy stomach, constant fatigue, rashes, fevers and aches. She attributes her poor condition to the stress of family burdens, which even the drafting of her latest manuscript—about a baronet's daughter nursing a broken heart for a daring naval captain—cannot alleviate. Her apothecary recommends a trial of the curative waters at Cheltenham Spa, in Gloucestershire. Jane decides to use some of the profits earned from her last novel, Emma, and treat herself to a period of rest and reflection at the spa, in the company of her sister, Cassandra.


Cheltenham Spa hardly turns out to be the relaxing sojourn Jane and Cassandra envisaged, however. It is immediately obvious that other boarders at the guest house where the Misses Austen are staying have come to Cheltenham with stresses of their own—some of them deadly. But perhaps with Jane’s interference a terrible crime might be prevented. Set during the Year without a Summer, when the eruption of Mount Tambora in the South Pacific caused a volcanic winter that shrouded the entire planet for sixteen months, this fourteenth installment in Stephanie Barron’s critically acclaimed series brings a forgotten moment of Regency history to life. (Publication date: February 8, 2022.)


Review by Christina Boyd: Jane & The Year Without a Summer is Book 14 in Stephanie Barron’s “Being a Jane Austen Mystery” series. Having read the entire series and knowing Barron writes her mysteries parallel to Austen’s real life timeline, I had assumed this novel was about Austen’s death in July 1817. Blessedly, I was incorrect.


The year is 1816. Jane Austen is forty and beginning to suffer the sickness that will end her life in the coming year. She has been advised by her doctor to take the waters in Cheltenham and away she and her sister, Cassandra, go.


They stay at a guesthouse full of diverting characters providing much for the sisters to ponder as their mysteries unfurl (and maybe Jane observes, too, for future characters in coming novels.)


Barron’s gift of Austenesque prose sets the scene after an historical environmental event, a volcanic eruption a world away, that did result in an unusually cool and non-existent summer.


“My brother Frank had exclaimed over the disaster, I vaguely recalled, when he learned of it from a fellow officer; a horrific explosion and lava flow near Java, in the Dutch East Indies.” pp. 44.

Barron’s voice and research, as always, is perfection, leading one to wonder what is fact or fiction. A murder mystery after a ball and the reappearance of Jane’s handsome artist friend, Mr Rafael West from Jane & the Waterloo Map (Book 13), increased the pacing and it did not stop until the mystery was solved, murderer revealed.


I grasped West’s hand in my own and stepped down to the paving. He bowed low, brushing his lips over the back of my glove. “We should drive out more often, Jane,” he said. “The wind has whipped color into your cheeks. Indeed—I should like to paint them.” pp. 175.

I confess to have shed a tear or two over this cozy mystery. The romantic elements always pull at my sentimental heartstrings but especially knowing what is Jane’s future... Le sigh. Jane and the Year Without a Summer is a terrific read! “Being a Jane Austen Mystery” is an ambitious, imaginative series, and, even at Book 14, still remains entertaining and full of eye opening, heart-pounding moments. Why isn’t this a NetFlix series!?


*Also, though it’s a series, each book can stand on its own. Though you’re cheating yourself if you don’t read them all.


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