I don’t plan on reviewing more than one book in a series, especially if I have a glowing review of the first, but I have to claim exception to my own rule in the case of Of Noble Family, the fifth book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series. As good as the first book (Shades of Milk and Honey) was, as I mentioned here, and the intervening three, the last one was even better, and for more reasons than those of its prequels. It truly was everything a book should be.
This series has been described as Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and that is an apt description. It is an exploration of the finer points of early 19th century British society, through the relationship of Jane and Vincent, two twenty-somethings who have the ability to manipulate “glamour” for artistic purposes. Its diction is very proper, as are its characters. Its magic system is very cool; the illusions they conjure and practical uses they make of it are fascinating.
But those descriptions are not sufficient to describe Of Noble Family. The thing I have loved about this whole series is that Kowal manages to tie so much action, intrigue, and emotion into what might otherwise be a rather dull and boring plot, given that it has so much to do with British society. Most of it takes place in the West Indies, and involves Jane and Vincent getting ensnared by his abusive father into managing an estate rife with corruption and disarray. As soon as they get there and discover all the details of this, they want to flee, especially since they discover that Jane is pregnant and conditions are so bad that they could put both her life and that of their unborn baby in jeopardy. But they can’t leave.
And therein lies the action, intrigue, and emotion. Jane is plucky and self-sacrificing and Vincent will do anything to keep her safe. But they find that they have to try and clean things up for the sake of the safety and freedom of the slaves of the estate, and, marginally, to see if there can be any kind of reconciliation between Vincent and his father. This gif shows better than I can tell how nicely the plot lays out and then folds up.
…only picture the pyramid with maybe six or seven more sides. That’s how many plot threads there are…at least. But it doesn’t get too complicated or overwhelming. Well…okay, maybe a little bit. But then at the end you feel smart for having been able to follow all of them all of the way through!
So do yourself a favor and read the whole series today! You could read Of Noble Family without having read its prequels and still be understand what’s going on, but it’s so much richer if you’ve read the others.
Let me know what you think of the book(s) in the comments below!
I’m reading Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves right now, and hope to have that review up this Sunday! Happy reading!