Fantasy Romances Inspired by Classic Literature: Without a Summer and Defy or Defend

4 Nov

Although mashups of classic literature with monsters such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Emma and the Vampires had a moment, some authors rather than simply splicing in elements of fantasy, instead take the source material as a place for inspiration, weaving in their own unique characters. In her afterword for Without a Summer, Mary Robinette Kowal thanks Jane Austen from who she says, she “stole three sentences and the essential character arc of Emma.”  In her Author Afterthoughts, Gail Carriger notes, “Before you ask, Defy or Defend is indeed an ode to the fantastic Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.”  Both stories may have been inspired by classic works, but they have their own unique twists and I highly recommend them.

Without A Summer
I was intrigued by Without a Summer first because of its setting during an unusually cold year in 1815 during which crops failed worldwide and snow even fell in New York in June.  This was notable for keeping Mary Shelly inside during a house party when she wrote her novel Frankenstein.  The cause is suspected to have been from the eruption of Mount Tambora in April in what is now Indonesia and another smaller eruption that had happened the year before in the Philippines. 

In Without A Summer though Cold Mongers who can use ether to provide cooling breezes and sometimes even make ice are suspected of a nefarious plot which is causing the climate change.  A match making sister, Jane, who along with her husband have been hired to create a Glamural in a ballroom for a wealthy family becomes caught up in this political intrigue.  Unlike regular murals a glamural is not simple painted, but magically comes to life.  I thought the fantasy elements were well integrated into the historic setting.  The book is third in The Glamourist Histories.  You can check it and the first novel in the series Shades of Milk and Honey out from eBCCLS.

Defy or Defend  
Gail Carriger is one of my favorite authors and I’d say this rates amongst the whimsical best of hers that I have read.  Defy or Defend is the second novella in her Delightfully Deadly Series set in the 1860s, which are a spinoff of her Finishing School Series, all of which takes place in the Parasolverse an whimsical gaslight fantasy look at the past that merges humor, romance, and often a bit of mystery. The Finishing School Series unlike the rest of her work was written for Young Adults and was set at school for spies.  Although Defy or Defend follows up with an adult version of Dimity, it is not necessary to have read The Finishing School Series beforehand (though you should read them since they are enjoyable for adults as well as teens). 

In Defy or Defend Dimity’s mission is to find out why a vampire hive has gone “Goth” and to see if she can turn things around before it is necessary to exterminate the problem.  The romance between Dimity and Crispin is sweet. Dmity’s efforts to bring some color in to the lives of the dark and gloomy vampires is a fun romp and if you enjoyed the book or terrific film version of Cold Comfort Farm as I did, you will want to check this out. 

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Information and Digital Services

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