Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal: Regency Magic
I find myself setting a new record, and not in a good way. I’m in the middle of six—count ’em—six books. Of course, reading that many all at one time slows down my ability to finish them considerably. But they’re all so…interesting, for so many different reasons! If any of you have read…
- The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
- Inborn by Amy Saunders
- A Million Worlds With You by Claudia Gray
- Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
- Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall by Anthony E. Wolf
- A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
…you’ll have to let me know what you thought of them. I hope to be able to give you reviews of each, in the order listed above, in each of the six following weeks. Right now, though, I’m going to tell you about Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s a book about regency magic. It’s Jane Austen meets Harry Potter, if you will. It was Shannon Hale who recommended them to me on Twitter:
@JamieMoesser Highly recommend Mary Robinette Kowal’s books too if you like that mix!
— Shannon Hale (@haleshannon) April 27, 2016
Jane Ellsworth, the main character, is a woman who, at the age of twenty-eight, has resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood, despite the fact that she is eligible, affable, and well-skilled in the manipulation of “glamour.” Her younger sister, Melody, is prettier and easily wins more attention from single men, so Jane satisfies herself with practicing and perfecting the glamour magic that allows her to weave beautiful three-dimensional scenes, record conversations, and make illusions. It is through that practice that she meets celebrated glamourist Mr. Vincent, who is a grumpier version of Mr. Darcy. Through Melody’s actions and an illness that Mr. Vincent develops from the overuse of his magic, Jane and Mr. Vincent are repeatedly thrown together. His host, the Viscountess Fitzcameron, is the aunt of a certain Captain Livingston. Both Jane and Melody develop an interest in Captain Livingston, who, though he show interest in both of them, proposes to neither of them, but still becomes a key character by the end of the book.
The thing that’s so great about this book, and about its sequel Glamour in Glass, is the characters, and the way that Mary Robinette Kowal weaves magic perfectly throughout the subtle emotional intrigues of early 19th century England. The magic system is fascinating in and of itself, and could easily have been the focus of the book. It’s a system that, as per the culture of the time, is very much focused on the production of beauty. At its strongest, it is an art form.
By the same token, the undercurrent of tension between the sisters Jane and Melody, who are very different from each other and don’t understand each other very well, could have also been the main theme, as it was in Sense and Sensibility. So too could the development of the various relationships between all of those main characters. All of these elements, though, are wonderfully balanced and skillfully intertwined in a plot that advances steadily toward a very dramatic conclusion. Ten out of ten stars.
I got this book used through Amazon (can’t beat a $4 book!), as well as its sequel, and have purchased audio books of the three other books in this series: Without a Summer, Valour and Vanity, and Of Noble Family. I plan to listen to them as soon as I finish reading the six books listed above! So many books, so little time.