Mary Robinette Kowal — Shades of Milk and Honey

I had a bit of wait for this one. After seeing the cover, reading the first chapter and concept of the book, I was really interested in reading it. On release day though I found that no bookstore downtown seemed to have it, and the library didn’t have a copy either. I watched the catalog like a hawk to make sure I could reserve it as soon as they got it. Today, I’ve got it in my hands, hoping the wait was worth it.

The concept was intriguing, it is a mixture of Jane Austen inspired regency drawing-room drama, and magic, known in the book as “glamour.” The opening of the book will remind a reader of a mixture of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion; a kindly father with two daughters wishing he had more to leave them (and a very silly wife), and the eldest daughter, slightly plain at age 28 (even though she is quite accomplished), remains unmarried and will most likely become a spinster. Jane Ellsworth does remind me a lot of Anne Elliott, one of my favorite Jane Austen heroines (although this is probably an unpopular opinion): she is concerned with propriety, kind, and an art lover and appreciator. Her younger daughter, Melody, is capricious, emotional, and lovely, and will probably not have a hard time finding a husband. However, at the beginning of the novel, both sisters feel an attraction towards the pleasant, handsome Mr. Dunkirk, a source of growing tension between them.

In reading the book, it was fun to pick out the episodes that seemed particularly Austen-inspired (a sprained ankle, a strawberry picking party, discussions about Anne Radcliffe, a rogue and a secret engagement with a young girl… the homages are numerous but done well so that they don’t seem too obvious). Kowal obviously has more than a passing familiarity with both the time period and the language; I liked her use of the archaic spellings you can find in Austen, lending a familiar gloss even when the characters are creating illusions out of the ether. The magic doesn’t seem out of place; it is fundamental to the ways that the characters view art, the way they interact, and even the social system–one young girl is always fainting because she has a glamour to hide her crooked teeth.

It is not a fast-paced book, unfolding slowly, in almost a cozy manner. I enjoyed this part of it, because the pacing, again, seemed Austen inspired. The hero and heroine (though the hero might not be who you think at first) come together gradually, with initial antagonism through a series of misunderstandings, but come to esteem each other as their values and views are truly well-matched. Jane is a sympathetic and charming heroine, though her sister is a little harder to stomach (all of the bad qualities of Marianne Dashwood but none of the good ones). Still, I enjoyed seeing all of the relationships played out and be allowed to develop at their own pace. This slow pace contrasted a little sharply with how fast the ending came (and let me say that it is certainly an eventful ending!) but overall I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the sequel.

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