Friday, February 18, 2022

Book Review: Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron

Pages: 336
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: February 8, 2022
Publisher: Soho Crime
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: That Churchill Woman
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "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."


Jane isn't feeling well, so she and her sister, Cassandra, escape to Cheltenham Spa.  This will be the relaxing time that they most desperately need. Jane has been under extra stress lately thanks to her family.  Her brother, Charles, lost his ship and now has to deal with Admiralty Board; the financial burdens are piling up.  She did make some money with the release of Emma, so going to the spa is just what her apothecary ordered.  However once she is there, it proves to be just as stressful as her everyday life.  Most of the other people visiting the spa are just down right disagreeable and a nuisance, especially Miss Garthwaite and her brother, Robert.  Things take a major turn for the worse once a crime (a murder!) is committed during a costume ball and Jane fancies herself an amateur sleuth.  Can Jane figure out who the killer is before it's too late?  Stephanie Barron's Jane and the Year Without a Summer is a compelling mystery for Janeites.  

It was an absolute delight to imagine Jane as an amateur detective.  While at the Cheltenham Spa, Barron conjures up an interesting group of visitors, some sinister and some just downright strange.  Of course, there is a possible love interest at the spa, but the recent turn of events takes Jane down a different path.  Once the crime is committed, it was fun to re-imagine Jane as a sleuth.  In fact, it isn't a far off stretch as Barron truly brought Jane to life. Her writing style is very reminiscent of Austen's, so it was a delight to visit this mysterious world and put myself in Austen's place.  When I was reading, there were times I forgot that Jane and the Year Without a Summer wasn't written by Jane Austen herself; that is how convincing Barron's voice was!

The time period of 1816 was also truly interesting in Jane and the Year Without a Summer. Of course, Janeites are familiar with the early 1800s; however, Barron puts us in the "year without summer" when an Indonesian volcano erupted causing quite literally a volcanic winter.  This definitely added to the gloom and mystery that enveloped the conflict in the story.

While Jane and the Year Without a Summer is part of the well-developed Jane Austen Mysteries series, readers don't have to be familiar with the previous books to enjoy this one.  I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Barron's re-imagined world complete with Jane as a detective; this book was the wintertime escape I most desperately needed.  Fans of Jane Austen won't be disappointed.

Have you read Jane and the Year Without a Summer or any of the other Jane Austen Mysteries? Are you a fan of Stephanie Barron? Let me know in the comments below. 



  1. I think Jane Austen would have made a great detective!

    1. Right? Me too. It definitely works! Thanks for visiting, Angela!

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Christina. Barron channels Austen so convincingly that I feel like she is talking to me. I am glad you enjoyed the book too. I am looking forward to the final novel in the series. Best, LA

    1. I agree! She is very good at sounding exactly like Austen herself! Thanks for visiting, Laurel!


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