Monday, April 1, 2013

Shades of Milk and Honey - Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Hardcover: 302 pages
Publisher: Tor
Published date: 2010
FTC: Bought at library book sale

I had originally heard of Shades of Milk and Honey over at Carl's blog Stainless Steel Droppings.  As I was perusing a local library book sale, I found this little discarded gem and snagged it up.  This is total Jane Austen with magic.  Right now Carl has the annual Once Upon a Time experience going on so this is a great little book to curl up with a cup of tea and read in a few short days.

Back of the book:

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential for a lady of quality. Despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester's society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody's lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists the fate, and rightly so, because while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion's share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family's honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right - and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

This debut novel from an award-winning talent scratches a literary itch you never knew you had. Like wandering into a secret picnic attended by Pride and Prejudice and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Shades of Milk and Honey is precisely the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen...if she lived in a world where magic worked.

My thoughts:

The first thing you must know is that Mary Robinette Kowal can write. (Shades of Milk and Honey was nominated for a Nebula Award so that tells you something.)  I recently tried picking up another Austenesque spinoff and was completely bored out of my mind.  This is not what you'll get with this book.  Jane is such an awesome protagonist.  Just like another Jane (Eyre), this Jane has a strong character, a great sense of right and wrong without being annoying, and is a bit plain.  Her beautiful sister Melody who is about ten years younger is also written realistically as quite big-headed about her beauty, often a bit cruel to her older plainer sister, but you still understand how Jane and Melody love each other while not always getting along.

While these sisters are in a similar plight as some of Austen's characters - no male heir (no brothers) and thus needed to be married off to ensure their living, they aren't as in as much financial straights as say the Dashwood sisters are.  That said, while Jane will be taken care of if she doesn't get married, looking forward to a future where your role is dependent on your sister and being her childrens' governess isn't the most thrilling of prospects. Of course there's the handsome wealthy next door neighbor that both women are a bit in love with - think of them living next door to Mr Darcy and his younger sister.

The whole glamour magic thing is woven so delicately into the story that it's sometimes hard for me to remember that this is a fantasy book published by Tor, a favorite publisher of mine.  Magic in this world is an art-form.  Women of wealthy means are taught it but not all grasp it that well and some just have natural talent and practice it well.  The character and plot twist that I loved was the glamourist/artist, Mr. Vincent, who takes up resident with a wealthy local patron to do a glamural - a glamour mural.  His name, his rough attitude, and the fact he's a talented artist couldn't help but make me think of another Vincent - van Gogh - which I just love.

All's well that ends well in the story - of course.  I was a bit surprised when I saw that Shades of Milk and Honey was book one in Glamourist Histories.  It's surprising because book one could totally be a stand alone story.  But if you want continue on with Jane's story and her world of Regency and magic,  you can.  While I'm not bursting at the seams to get my hands on book two, I will be putting it on my to-read list and grabbing it at the library in the near future.

It looks like they changed up the old-fashioned cover a bit for books two and three.  Don't read the synopsis unless you want major spoilers for book one.

Here's book two:

And three:

Also Reviewed By:
Stainless Steel Droppings
Fyrefly's Book Blog


  1. I may give this one a try. I do like books with a touch of magic that seems completely normal. Sarah Allison Allen is another author that incorporates the magic. She's terrific.

  2. I may give this one a try. I do like books with a touch of magic that seems completely normal. Sarah Allison Allen is another author that incorporates the magic. She's terrific.