Series: Glamourist Histories #1
Published by Tor on July 26, 2010
Genres: Historical Romance
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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: 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.
Illusion magic is an understood reality in the Glamourist Histories set in Jane Austen’s England. Two sisters are rivals in love and in talent among their English country society in Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut effort.
Shades of Milk and Honey introduces the reader to a world where illusion magic colors all aspects of Regency life so that the Plain Jane older sister who is gifted with illusion talent shines as bright as her younger, more beautiful and charming sister. The sisters live a comfortable life as gentleman’s daughters on a small estate in Dorset. Their loving father and hypochondrial mother both promote the sisters to make a good match, especially now that the neighborhood has welcomed new gentlemen into their midst.
The sisters are opposites in every way like a certain pair of Austen sisters of Sense & Sensibility fame. Jane, the elder sister, is practically an on the shelf spinster, but she has secret longings. Her glamour art and music gain her the attention of one grumpy illusionist designer, Mr. Vincent, who is working on the great house illusions and a worthy gentleman neighbor, Mr. Dunkirk, who she thinks is only interested in her sister. Meanwhile, she tries to guide her younger sister and Mr. Dunkirk’s younger sister to watch their behavior when in mixed company that now includes the dashing young Captain who is visiting the neighborhood Great House.
I had mixed feelings about this one. Little sister Melody was a spoiled, immature, manipulating brat and even Jane, who was hurt most by her machinations, didn’t really call her on it for much of the book. Though, it was nice to see that Melody finally learns her lesson the hard way. Jane is rather a doormat. She mentally has a tart tongue, but she holds back and lets her sister and everyone else steam roll her because she buys into the slot of the plain sister. Not sure why she didn’t clue in sooner because anyone and everyone were in awe of her magic weaving ability and her sister’s very obvious and marked jealousy which she said more than once was for Jane’s gifts should have proved it to her.
And, to round out my list of cons was the uneven development of the romance. For much of the book, Jane thinks she’s an irritant to one man and practically ignored by the other one she crushes on. The reader knows full well that the irritating one is a Mr. Darcy, but the romance vibes are non-existent until late in the book and then come on strong in literally the closing chapters. I get it, it was supposed to be a twist to delight the reader and it wasn’t that big of a stretch plus this was the start of a series that will follow their story further. So, I’ll cut the romance part some slack.
Now, the part I loved was the magical fantasy Austen world, the collection of personalities and characters in the cast, that frisson that is obvious between Jane and Vincent and how well they both do illusion work and together. The bad guy was a wonderful rendition of an Austen villain who created good suspense in the latter half. And, I have to add that even though I wasn’t into petulant Melody or milque-toast Jane sisters, this did make for a good strong, believable sibling rivalry one doesn’t see very often in books.
Shades of Milk and Honey felt very much like a first book in a series and would feel a bit under done if left standalone though it does have good closure of this installment. I will happily press forward and see what comes next for Jane, Vincent and the rest of the cast. Those who enjoy gentle Gaslamp fantasy with strong Austen thematic elements should give this a go.
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