April 29, 2013

Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories, #1)
Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1)

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 skill for a lady of quality. But 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 this fate, and rightly so: 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.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this one. Jane Austen and magic? However I've read such glowing reviews, so I'm glad to say that it lived up to them! Ms. Kowal very seamlessly adds the magic (called glamour in the story) into the time period really well. It's not explained how it works exactly, yet it's such a part of every day life for everyone that it doesn't really matter. Enough detail is given to satisfy the reader. The glamour is used all around the house, mostly for decorative purposes. But it can be used for other reasons, some of which Jane learns about during the story. One of the things about this type of glamour is not everyone can use it. And some are much more adept at it than others. Jane especially is exceptionally good at using it. Her sister Melody on the other hand, not so much. It takes a deft hand to fold and stretch it into the forms you want it to take and to tie it off so the glamour holds in that position and doesn't disappear. Melody's hands were too clumsy to be able to do the intricate details needed to make wonderful glamurals.

Ms. Kowal seems to know the time period well and her writing reflects that. With the spelling of some words in the Old English way (at least I'm assuming) and with how the characters act. It felt like a story that Ms. Austen herself could have written, aside from the magic of course. It begins pretty slow, this is a regency novel after all, and the characters spend most of their time talking and visiting each other. But then about three quarters of the way through, some true excitement begins and suddenly there's about six or seven threads that are finally all coming together at once! It certainly kept me glued to the story to find out what happens. 

Jane and her family have great interactions, her mother being pretty flighty and given to nerves like Mrs. Bennet from P&P and her father more level-headed. I liked them both. But I didn't like Melody her sister, all that well. We're told from the very beginning that Jane and Melody are close, Jane being the eldest and plain-looking, while Melody is young and beautiful. Jane herself states several times that she loves Melody dearly and repeatedly gives over to Melody's requests and wishes. But I could never find a reason why Jane would love Melody so much, aside from being family. Melody whines a lot, and gets jealous of Jane's ability with glamour which leads to her saying lots of hurtful things. In fact Melody says a tremendous amount of hurtful things to Jane, and even when finally apologizing near the end, still Jane does most of the giving in the relationship. Melody just seems to take and take, and though finally admitting that she's grateful for all that Jane did for her, I still couldn't muster up any sympathy or likeable-ness about her. Jane is quite sweet however, with a little fiestiness too!

I really did enjoy this story. As an Austen-enthusiast, it was right up my alley! Delightful and funny and the love-interest adds much cute-ness also! He's certainly on his way to becoming very Mr. Darcy-like, if not for Jane's sweet influence. This is book #1 in a series, yet it can be read as a stand-alone quite easily. And I actually like this cover a lot! Much better than the sequel, it fits the story really well, I think. If you enjoy Jane Austen, I'm sure you'd love this one. Try it! :)

"Thought she did not intend to watch, Jane could hardly fail to notice the effect of Miss FitzCameron's faint. Lady FitzCameron rushed forward, crying, "Livia!" and then directed the two closest gentlemen to help carry her ailing daughter to the side of the floor. By coincidence, Miss FitzCameron had been overcome when the figures of the dance carried her between Captain Livingston and Mr. Dunkirk, surely two of the most eligible bachelors in the room.
So neatly did she remove these gentlemen from the ladies on which they were attendant that Jane began to wonder if, in fact, it were not deliberate. Had anyone save her noticed, or was it a mere accident of timing? Miss Dunkirk looked lost on the dance floor without a partner, so Jane slipped through the crowd to her father, and suggested that he escort the young woman."


  1. Sounds intriguing! The mixture of magic and historical fiction reminds me a bit of "The White Queen" by Philippa Gregory, though that's set during the War of Roses, not the Regency, and it's about historical figures.

    1. It's a lot of fun, Hamlette. :) I haven't read any of Philippa Gregory's books actually. Do you recommend them?

    2. I've only read The White Queen, and I picked it up because I actually go by the call sign "White Queen" in the fandom that revolves around the old show Combat!. Since I'm the White Queen, I sort of felt duty-bound to read it, hee.

      But anyway, I liked it okay, but I haven't wanted to read any more of her books. I love history and historical fiction, but court intrigue doesn't interest me enough to get me to read more than that one. You can read my review of it here if you want to know my non-bite-sized opinion.

      I will say this -- for a book I didn't like all that well, certain images and phrases have stuck with me for the three years since I read it. It was well-written, just not interesting to me. There was a solid amount of love-making in it, but not the icky and overly-detailed kind.

    3. I clicked over to your review. You basically stated the reason why I haven't picked up one of her books yet. It's that court intrigue and political stuff that turns me away. I want to enjoy the stories, the covers and descriptions make them sound fabulous. But I'm not really into real life/fictionalized court intrigue I guess. Thanks for mentioning your review! I've been curious for someone's opinion of her stories but haven't read much about them.

    4. Great minds think alike and all that! ;)


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