The Weather Woman

Written by Sally Gardner
Review by Susie Helme

Neva, a Russian girl, has a gift—she can predict the weather. In January 1789, the Thames is frozen over, and London is enjoying a Frost Fair. Three-year-old Neva mimics the sound of ice melting, but the adults don’t heed her warning. She can also read ‘the weather inside people’. Her mother, fiery red, and her father, ice-blue, fight constantly, and she lives in terror.

An accident kills her parents, and Neva takes up with Victor Friezland, a clockmaker, who is also Russian. She wears boys’ clothes, puts on blue-lensed spectacles, and calls herself Eugene Jonas. People are noticing that her predictions about the weather always come true. Victor fears for her safety and builds an automaton to have her speak through. Neva then meets Henri Dênou, Lord Wardell’s nephew. He bets on her forecasts and wins. In the guise of Eugene Jonas, she goes to a club with Henri and has a whale of a time.

Though this isn’t a comedy, there are errors of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Mix-ups arise when lovers don’t declare themselves, complicated by them dressing up as the opposite gender. Letters remain unsent. Victor’s death—and his surprising will—brings all the characters into conflict.

Any period would love to have a magic weather-predicting machine, but there’s a quirky Regency feel to the story of Neva’s special power. This is a period when people were fascinated by magicians and mesmerism. Modern readers can appreciate a tale of female empowerment, and there’s a climate change message in Neva’s predictions. The early chapters, and the three-year-old voice, are very good, and Neva’s voice is strong throughout. The interplay between characters is full of love, jealousy, greed, and skulduggery.