Thursday, March 28, 2013

SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY by Mary Robinette Kowal - Book Review

[Note: This review was originally published on on March 14, 2012. I had the opportunity to meet Mary Robinette Kowal when she was the Author Guest of Honour at JordanCon 2012, and she is delightful!]

Rating: 4.5/5 - Writing down the title so I can recommend it to everyone.

Title: Shades of Milk and Honey

Mary Robinette Kowal

Format: trade paperback


fantasy, alternate history, romance

Tor Books

Landed in my hands:
purchased myself

(from cover blurb):

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world 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: The lives of Jane and her sister Melody 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, she 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 onto 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 of Jane Austen... if she lived in a world where magic worked.


Oh, dear Lord, I know people who need this book.

I mean, I know people who would scrabble over children like crazed shoppers on Black Friday to read this book...

Okay, perhaps that’s not the best way to begin a review, is it? Well, let’s put it this way: I know some lovely readers who love historical romance (particularly Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters), and these readers also occasionally enjoy reading a touch of fantasy, be it urban or epic in scope.

If this describes you, go find a copy of Shades of Milk and Honey — now!

Because you know when you’re reading a book and taking notes for your review, and then you get so involved in the book you forget to take notes...? No? Just me? Okay then...

(Seriously, about halfway through the book? No more notes. Oopsie?)

That said, what struck me as so-simple-yet-effective was Robinette Kowal’s ability to immerse the reader in the Regency era. The characters’ mannerisms, the diction (even bygone spelling), and the overall published package (the gorgeous cover art, the margins and font on the first page of every chapter) are reflective of the Regency era and its literary legacy.

It really feels like you’re reading a classic.

And as for glamour itself, not only has Robinette Kowal given it a matter-of-fact presence — explaining just enough the science behind the mystery — but she has set limits for the ability to manipulate it. There are physical tolls paid with long use, and thankfully it’s another reason for ladies to fall (heh) victim to the legendary Regency swoon.

Proving her skill, Robinette Kowal has tied the necessity of the magic to the direction of the narrative. It’s not simply a charming love story in an alternative history setting that happens to have magic. No. No, the magic is integral to the plot.

That’s alternative history done well, folks.

And so I say, “well done, madam. Well done, indeed.”

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