Summary Review This is a wonderful emotional story with well drawn characters and a bittersweet romance. You will fall in love with Robert and John and be hopeful in the end that their romance will endure.
Lieutenant Robert Pierce of the Royal Navy was raised in the shadow of his father, a great admiral, and has spent his life on the high seas fighting the ships of Napoelon Bonaparte. When he loses a leg in battle and is confined to land, Robert is devastated. Taken in by his sister Maria, Robert faces the infamously cold, wet summer of 1816 trying to adjust to his new life. It’s made all the gloomier by his worry for his best friend and lover, Lieutenant John Burgess, who is still at sea… until a visitor brings a bright ray of sunshine into Robert’s overcast life.
This is the first book that I have read by this author and what a pleasure it was. The writing is evocative and the characters are all wonderfully drawn, culminating in a touching, bittersweet tale of love.
Lieutenant Robert Pierce was doing what all good sons do in historical times, following in his father’s footsteps even though it might not be the right career choice for him. His father, the Admiral, cast a large shadow and Robert had no hope of ever matching his career achievements; at times he felt that he was a huge disappointment.
The Year Without Summer is told by Robert in flashbacks as he’s living with his sister Maria after the accident that ended his career. The story opens with Robert trying to cope with his depression. Not only is he deprived of his career but the man he loves, Lieutenant John Burgess, who is still at sea and from all accounts he’s enjoying a life that was no longer available to Robert. Life at sea at first was dreadful for Robert, with everyone ignoring or ostracising him because of who he was, until John came aboard and it was as if the sun had come out of the clouds. John was beautiful and he took Robert under his wing in many ways, changing his personality from a dour introvert to someone who actually had fun, and they became best friends. As they drew closer other emotions came into play, until ultimately their love led to them having sex, which was so beautifully handled that the transition seemed natural. As John took care of Robert’s hair by braiding it I could feel the tenderness between them which was palpable.
G.S. Wiley’s writing is at times understated and subtle in some of the scenes between Robert and John when they gradually moved from best friends to lovers, and then when least expected, you’re smacked in the face by the reality and grittiness of life at sea in those times. I love the way she shifts gears. Robert’s accident which resulted with his leg being amputated is told in horrific detail and I travelled that journey with him, with both our hearts breaking. Then the writer describes Robert’s present life, watching the rain from the windows of his sister’s home, with very few options for a future and generally a pretty bleak outlook. But suddenly everything changes for Robert in a heartbeat when he has a visitor, his former lover John Burgess, and it seems that perhaps there may be a future for Robert after all and not one envisaged by his sister, of marriage to one of the lovely ladies who would have loved to help him spend his inheritance.
The Year Without Summer is beautifully written with nuanced characters who come alive between the covers. The romance is emotional as Robert tries to come to terms with what making love to John would mean if they were discovered, not just to him and John career wise, but the disgrace that would befall his entire family. However his love for John overcame his personal fears, and ultimately his only concern was that they would be separated and his life would revert to the way it was before. Maria, Robert’s sister, is somewhat typical of the ladies of the era but she clearly loves her brother and wants the best for him. She tries to get him out of his depression by suggesting activities that they could do together and takes care of him to the extent that he would let her. Robert is a well drawn character as is John and their differences are what draw them to each other.
The story seems to be historically accurate (although I’m no expert) with all the little details throughout, from the men’s attire to the behaviour of the midshipmen on board ship, to Maria who tolerates with good humour her ever absent husband.
If you’re looking for a lovely historical romance with three dimensional characters and a romance that will tug at your heartstrings then I highly recommend The Year Without Summer. It’s a book that you will read again and again.