I'll come right out and say it. I've never finished a Jane Austen book in my life. I've tried, oh how I have tried, but old Jane and I have never reached an understanding. That's why I am astonished that I absolutely loved every single moment of Mary Robinette Kowal's brilliant Jane Austen-y fantasy novel, Shades of Milk and Honey. It's a beautifully written novel that seems to be a most delightful melding of magic and Austen. It was so finely written and the fantasy elements so well realized that I barely remembered the things the characters could do wasn't real life.
Shades of Milk and Honey takes place in Regency England, in the picturesque countryside. Jane Ellsworth is the plainer in features but more talented in magic than her annoying as shit younger sister, Melody. At 28, Jane is already past her prime and is sure marriage is no longer on the table. She has resigned herself to a life of quiet spinsterhood. Thankfully for Jane, her life doesn't stay quiet for long.
Read on for my full review of Shades of Milk and Honey!
This book is exceptionally well written and completely atmospheric. If it wasn't for the inclusion of magic, it would truly feel like a Jane Austen novel. It is absolutely pitch perfect for the time period. The balls are lavish, the social minefield as dangerous as ever, and so much importance placed on a few words or casual looks. It was very easy to get lost in this book. The plot was very Regency and my only complaint with it was that the end felt slightly hurried to me. There is a sequel in the works, so I hope it gets more fleshed out there.
The characters were exceptional. I strongly empathized with Jane. She is a strong, smart, clever and impressive woman. I so clearly understood her frustrations with her demanding and bitchy younger sister, since I too have a younger sister that I butt heads with. Melody is a total pill and I kept wanting her to get her comeuppance. The minor characters were colorful and entertaining. Best of all, the love interests (oh yes, love interests!) were just wonderful. On one hand, you have Mr Vincent, a quiet artist. On the other hand, you have Mr. Dunkirk, who is very much a Mr. Darcy type of character. Together, they provide an interesting challenge to Jane.
Of course, one of the most fascinating things about the novel was the magic system it introduced. This is, after all, a fantasy novel. Magic, called glamour, isn't a big deal in this world. It isn't used to fight wars or save lives. It's considered primarily a woman's art, like painting or sewing, and young well-to-do girls are schooled in it. Jane is a master with glamours while her younger sister struggles with them. Glamours are used for decorations or art. They are also used to enhance beauty or hide physical flaws. Many of the men in the novel, apart from Mr. Vincent, can't be bothered to use glamour at all. I found this to be fascinating. This astounding talent is only used to create pretty dresses or add the scent of lilacs to a room. Mr. Vincent is the exception to the rule. He is a renowned artist and uses his considerable gift with glamour to create stunning works of art called glamourals. He basically takes his magic and turns whole rooms into breathtaking works of art.
Between the unique application of magic, the Regency romantic story and the interesting characters, this novel was an exceedingly pleasant read. I must admit, I completely loved it. I did not want it to end at all and I am incredibly excited for the release of the sequel, called Glamour In Glass, in March.
Do not miss out on this unassuming but awesome novel. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I have to go and try to finish Pride and Prejudice.