The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd Book Review

Image from Goodreads

Publisher: John Murry Press, Two Roads

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publish Date: 6 February 2020

Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

A truly wonderful book that moves the heartstrings and leads you to question the climate issue of the present. Glasfurd has chosen to write a historical novel about the year known as, the Year Without Summer: 1816. In the Sumbawa Islands, Indonesia, Mount Tambora stood at14,100 feet but the 1815 eruption reduce its hight to 9,350 feet while also killing over 71,000 people and throwing so much ash into the atmosphere it leads 1816 to be known as a year without summer. Crops failed, livestock died and famine became widespread in North America and Europe. The eruption of Mount Tambora was a super-colossal explosion, the worst in modern times with the eruption of Krakatoa coming in second.

It is during this year that Glasfurd has written 6 stories, the majority based on living persons, that show how the year without summer affected their lives. Starting with the most famous; Mary Shelly. Mary during 1816 is traveling with her future husband Percy Shelly and Claire Clairmont to meet with poet Lord Byron and his doctor, Polidori, in Switzerland. This meeting in Switzerland leads to one of the literature greatest moments. The “incessant rainfall” and unusual summer would led to a competition over ghost stories that would see the birth of Frankenstein. Next is the famous artist John Constable who saw his life change drastically in 1816 due to bereavement, marriage, and painting. Sarah Hobbs is much less known. In real life, she was the only woman condemned to hang for the Ely and Littleport riots of 1816 but her sentence was commuted. The riots concerned farmers, grain costs and unemployment. Although the issue was bubbling away on the back burner the 1816 crop failure acted as the spark that led to the riot. In the book, Sarah mimics real Sarah’s life but it is very loose. Cleverly, Glasfurd doesn’t just concern herself with 1816 she also writs a narrative based on the account of the Captain of the Benares. In this narrative the ship’s Doctor, Henry, records his mission first, to discover the cause of a sound, believing it to be pirates, to then discover the immediate aftermath of the Mount Tambora’s eruption. This account is quite graphic and heart-wrenching! Next a fictional character and narrative. An American Preacher settled in Vermont, Charles Whitlock, stands firm and convinces his flock of farmers to remain and weather the storm when they were preparing to leave, thereby leading to disastrous consequences. And Lastly, Hope Peter, a returning soldier from the Napoleonic Wars who finds the remains of his home.

All six narratives interested me deeply, I know from reading some other reviewers’ reviews that they could have done without some and could have had more of others, but I felt that all the narratives played a part in what the author ultimately wanted to achieve. An example of what a natural disaster, that has an enormous effect on climate change, can do to all types of people at different stations and situations. It wasn’t until recently that 1816 could be connected as a consequence of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 and that the 1 to 2 degree chill effect had impacted the world through famine, politics and social unrest. A lot of parallels can be drawn from 1816 and today – but as the author questions, what does this knowledge give us?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an E-ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Vanished Bride

Image supplied by Hodder & Stoughton

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis is a historical fiction mystery inspired by the famous literary Bronte sisters. The cover of the book is perfect! The silhouettes of the Bronte sisters all huddled together, standing in front of an imposing silhouetted mansion. (An inspiration for my pumpkin carving this year). I’m aware that there is another cover image for the book but the one I’ve described was the first I saw and fell in love with. It invoked images in my head of Wuthering Heights or Thornfield Hall. The cover marks this book as one of those books I would buy regardless of the story just because it is so beautiful.

After falling in love with the cover I read the description. The Bronte sisters turned amateur detectives? What a crazy concept. Could the sisters be Sherlock Holmes? Or more of a Miss Marple, just out for a pleasure walk, holiday or friendly visit and, shock horror, murder! I was compelled to read further to find out which.

The novel is as beautifully compelling as the cover. Like most book lovers, I have read and reread the Brontes’ works, and with authors such as Mary Shelly or Jane Auston, the reality of the author’s life is just as fascinating, if not more than their fiction. Ellis is clever in this novel, it is very much a history of the Brontes’ with a tangent of a murder mystery mixed in. As we travel through the book the fictional story has many characters and events that give head nods to influences that inspired their books, or more likely, a fictional timeline with fictional characters and events that have similarities to their written work. For example, Mr. Chester could easily influence the characters of Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester. Ellis highlights this also in the author’s notes:

The Vanished Bride is a novel written with fondness, warmth, and appreciation for the three legendary and revolutionary authors that have had a lasting impact on my life… I hope its a pretty good yarn too.” Kindle location 3709

It all begins in Charlotte’s later life, being the last sibling standing, reminiscing about the eventful year that all four siblings are reunited under one roof after three return to their father’s house under a cloud of scandal. Not long after, a bride goes missing from her home leaving behind a vast volume of blood that no human would be able to live without. Luckily, for the Brontes’ the governess of the house happens to be an old schoolfriend thus they have their excuss to visit.

The Brontes were introverts and loved the written word. I like how Ellis beautifully weaves this and other aspects of the sister’s personalities into the book and I feel I quite understand the sisters especially in their reflections of having a very small world but within that world having an infinite universe within the mind and that:

“The further the crowded coach carried them…the more appealing the quiet, uneventful hearth of home seemed” Kindle location 1358

Emily has always been my favorite of the sisters and I’m glad her character in this novel is how I think about her personally. Emily, very loving, caring and full of emotion is socially awkward, funny and a warrior. She is able to be her own person and to be confident to like what she likes without caring about what others think.

I’ll have to stop here or I’ll be giving out spoilers. As quirky as this book is it is a gem of a book and a 2019 favorite. I’m glad I came across it and very excited that the sisters will be back again with another mystery.

To end, Ellis has cleverly wrapped this mystery in an enigma. For Bella Ellis is not the real name of the author, rather like the Bronte sisters who published under different names originally. Bella Ellis is the reverse of Ellis Bell, the name Emily Bronte originally published under. Perhaps, a clue which sister is preferred? Who could this mysterious author be… you can either google it or wait for the author to turn up at your publishing house defending their honor.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an electronic ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.