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Glamourist Histories #1

Shades of Milk and Honey

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Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England 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.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published July 26, 2010

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About the author

Mary Robinette Kowal

236 books4,707 followers
Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of the Lady Astronaut Universe and historical fantasy novels: The Glamourist Histories series and Ghost Talkers. She’s a member of the award-winning podcast Writing Excuses and has received the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, four Hugo awards, the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel, the Nebula, and Locus awards. Stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, several Year’s Best anthologies and her collections Word Puppets and Scenting the Dark and Other Stories.

Her novel Calculating Stars is one of only eighteen novels to win the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards in a single year.

As a professional puppeteer and voice actor (SAG/AFTRA), Mary Robinette has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures, and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve. She records fiction for authors such as Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi.

Mary Robinette lives in Nashville with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,998 reviews
May 21, 2014
This book is like Jane Austen's works in the way that a genetically modified out-of-season greenhouse tomato is like a cherry. Sure, they're technically both classified as fruits. They're red. They're juicy-looking. They're attractive. The difference is that when you bite into said GMO tomato, it tastes like mealy, mushy, tasteless crap. This book is the equivalent of a limp, tasteless slice of tomato on a McDonalds' hamburger. Why bother? You're just going to pick it off and throw it away anyway. Or maybe that's just me. I hate raw tomatoes.

This book tries way too hard. The main character is a doormat. Her love interest is not so much Darcy as he is Jane Eyre's Rochester (yes, I know they're not by the same author) played by a 9th grade drama student with aspirations of playing Heathcliff, whose inspiration for Heathcliff (yes, I know that's yet another book) comes from The Simpsons' Ned Flander's portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (I KNOW THEY'RE ALL BY DIFFERENT AUTHORS, THAT'S NOT THE FREAKING POINT!).

Sorry for all the literary references. Not really. I'm just in a fucking bad mood right now after reading this book and I don't care.

- The characters are extremely similar to Austen's, with none of the complexity, resulting in characters that are predictable and dull

- The language is both pretentious (Shew! Shewed! Chuze! Chusing!) and inconsistent

- There is no sisterly love. Expecting Elizabeth and Jane? Don't hold your breath. It's more like Fanny and Lydia (I KNOW THEY'RE NOT IN THE SAME BOOK1!111).

- There's no fucking point to the magic! None! It's literally fucking window decoration! There's no explanation! Poof! Magic sparkly dragon fairy dust everywhere and hidden glamour strings being pulled out of thin air like a used fucking tampon string within some invisible female unicorn! What's the fucking point?!

The Plot: We're in Jane Austen-era England! Hooray! Our main character is named Jane! Hooray! She has a sister, a beautiful beautiful beautiful sister named Melody!---the loveliest maiden in the entire fucking shire (the English shire, not the Middle Earth Shire, although it would be pretty epic if there were an Elven P&P, I would watch the shit out of that).

Jane has a doting father and a fussy mother who does nothing but whine and gossip and worry about her daughters' marriage prospects. I'm shocked!! Their estate is entailed in favor of a male relative. Such wonder! Such surprise! A new neighbor has moved in, a Mr. Dunkirk!! No! He is a kind, handsome young gentleman, reserved and polite. I never! He has a young, very shy little sister named Elizabeth (16 years old and not yet debuted! Oh, my!) whom he dotes on. Said beloved sister is so beloved, so protected, because she HAS A DARK, DEEP SECRET! DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUN! I WONDER WHAT THE SECRET COULD BE?!

There's a young, charming, handsome military man named Livingston who gambles and flirts, who might or might not have a dark, dastardly, wascally wabbit secret! There's a dark, brooding man named Mr. Vincent who does nothing but sneer---ok, he might belong in Jane Eyre instead, if our beloved Rochester has the personality of a moldy potato and none of the good looks, and you might recall Rochester was never much of a looker to begin with!

It depends on which BBC production you watch, of course, but I'd rather not give the dude in this book the benefit of the doubt.

So, the love fuckery, I mean, you could call it a love triangle, but again, I'm in a pretty fucking foul mood right now. You would be too if you read 300 pages of nothing!

Jane admires Captain Livingston while secretly in love with Mr. Dunkirk who admires Jane but shows all the attention to Melody, who flirts with Dunkirk and flirts with Mr. Vincent and flirts with Captain Livingston (hell, anything with a penis who's not her father---oh, right, it's a Regency. I'm not supposed to say the word penis. Or tampon now that I think about it. Or curse. Crap!). Vincent doesn't give a fuck about anyone and snarls at Jane while showing (shewing!!!!) attention upon Melody. Livingston is flirting with Melody while choosing (chusing?! chuzing?! Make up your mind, fucking book!) to bestow his attention upon another SECRET YOUNG LADY WHO HE REALLY SHOULDN'T BE SEEING. I wonder who the mysterious very young, very off limits lady could be!!!11

And in the middle of all this, magic (glamour) is used to decorate everything and to make things pretty and sparkly and bright.

Ach, mein head!

The Fucking Language: Be fucking consistent. It tries too fucking hard. This book tries to use the "antiquated" language of Austen days, which would work EXCEPT IT ONLY DOES SO WHEN IT FEELS LIKE IT.

Shew, shewed, shewn. AKA Show, showed, shown. Here written as shewn for the entire fucking book except when the author forgets to do so. SHEW SHEW SHEW SHEW. GAAAAAAAAAAAH. IT PISSED ME OFF SO MUCH.

- "Beth was out of sorts, however, and the enthusiasm she had shown before dinner seemed to be smothered under a layer of melancholy" vs "They were shewn to the library, with Jane’s mother accompanying them as chaperon."

Chuse! "Choose" is written as chuse, chuse, chuuuuuuuuuuse! except when the modern form is used. "She would not have chosen to meet him next in this manner."

Teaze! Surprize! Really, what was the fucking point?! The ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ makes it so much more fucking authentic?! No! It just gives me a fucking headache. “You may teaze me, but Mr. Vincent’s praise is more valuable for being rare.”. "To her surprize, Mr. Vincent had come to call."

Haphazard fucking use of British spelling vs. American. Sometimes things are spelled with an "ou" wherein the US, we would simply spell it with an "o." The SAME FUCKING WORDS are spelled differently in the book. Honor and honour. Apologize is given the American spelling instead of properly spelled in the British way as apologise. Favorite is used instead of favourite. There is no ends to the inconsistencies within this book.

The Characters: Straight out of Austen, with none of the details of personality that makes the original a classic.

One could call Jane an P&P's Elizabeth Bennett wannabe, but I prefer to call her a motherfucking doormat. Oh, I know perfectly well that in that age, women were expected to be docile. There is such a thing as being gentle-natured without laying yourself flat on the floor and asking people to walk all over you. Elizabeth and Emma are good examples of how a Regency woman can be strong-minded while not being a fucking incompetent nincompoop who does nothing but mope and whine all freaking day.

Jane is a martyr. She is plaaaaaaaain. Plain Jane. Beloved by her daddy, but plain and a spinster, nonetheless. She loves Dunkirk. She's unwilling to do anything to get him. She's half torn by his attraction to him and her desire to do good by her sister, who is courting him, so in essence, we get a lot of internal wangst and emo and not a whole lot of action at all. Jane is really, really dull. I would say that's a consequence of her name, but that would be an insult to all the glorious Janes worldwide. Including our revered Jane Austen herself.

Misters before Sisters:
Melody stopped and tossed her head, eyes sparkling. “And I thought better of you. Jealousy is unbecoming on you, dear sister. It is not my fault he finds me beautiful.”
You want P&P's Jane and Elizabeth's loving, sisterly relationship?! Fuck you, says this book! Melody is more like Kitty, and Jane is, well, P&P's Jane, without the beauty, without the personality, without the sweetness, with all of the inaction with a truckload of internal pettiness piled onto her. Why do we like Jane again? Oh, she's the main character. Well, alrighty then!

Jane resents her sister for her beauty. She secretly relishes Melody's lack of intelligence compared to her own. She secretly wants Melody out of the way so she can date---pardon me, la! Dreamy Dunkirk!
She had not hitherto allowed herself to hope, but if Melody’s affections had truly transferred to Captain Livingston, that would remove the most immediate obstacle to Mr. Dunkirk. It left her plainness and her awkward carriage, but to a man such as him, might these things be overlooked in favour of her talent?
Melody is beautiful, but conniving and bitchy. She is envious of Jane for her talents in glaaaaaaaaaamour, and constantly belittles Jane every chance she's got. In front of all the boys! That's just mean. Melody is deceptive, bitchy, shallow.
Though she knew that she should aid her sister in making a match, Jane could not stomach the games that Melody played.
There's also a "sick" scene that was just pathetic. Melody is a combination of P&P's Lydia and Kitty. Kitty's shallowness and brainlessness and Lydia's compulsion and idiocy. And like Lydia, it's only too easy to see where Melody will end up.

The Rooooomance: Jane is in love with Dunkirk, but there's kind-of-not-really a love triangle because we know all along who shes's going to end up with. This man, we'll call him Mr. V, isn't quite Darcy. Darcy is subtle. Darcy is polite. Darcy is all that a gentleman should be. Mr. V..."His jaw clenched and he seemed about to say something, but the moment passed and his anger subsided," "made his sneer deepen," "smirked," "his teeth bared as he snapped his reply." More like a hound of the Baskervilles than a man. Mr. V is as subtle as a brick to the face.

The Magic: What's the fucking point?! There's nothing to the magic. It comes from hidden strings in the air. people don't have to be born with it. It's like motherfucking embroidery, only men can do it too. And with all the maaaaaaaaaagical magic, it's being used for nothing but motherfucking party decoration.
There, a combination of glamour and paint contrived to turn the hall into a nymph’s grove. Though yet incomplete, the illusion teazed the spectators with scents of wild-flowers and the spicy fragrance of ferns. Just out of sight, a brook babbled.
Motherfucking OOOOOOOOOOOOH! What's the point?! Where did all this magic come from? If it's so powerful, why aren't more people using it? Why is it completely optional? If the strings are so fucking invisible, how come anyone can see them and pull on them if they want to? Isn't it completely contradictory to have invisible glamour strings that you can see and pull and manipulate?! Can I please have some freaking explanations?!

Ugh. What a waste of time. I'm going to go reread Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife. Darcy and Elizabeth fucking each other like rabbits had more depth than this book.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,878 reviews22.6k followers
February 29, 2020
I love Jane Austen and I love fantasy, so you would think this book, which mixes the two, would be right up my alley, especially since it was written by a Hugo Award-winning author. Can't miss! and yet, somehow, it does. Superficially it's a very Austenesque tale, but it lacks most of the wit, charm and complexity of Austen.

Jane is the plain older sister with all the talent in the family: art, music and magic. But at age 28, she feels like she's fated to become a spinster, and she spends most of the book struggling with her insecurities. Frankly, it got pretty tiresome. Melody is her lovely 18 year old sister who doesn't have any particular talents. They love each other, but each is deeply jealous of what the other sister has that she lacks. And they've both developed a tendre for the same eligible gentleman, Mr. Dunkirk, who lives on a neighboring estate.

It's interesting that the use of magic, called "glamour," in this world seems to be limited to creating visual illusions. In most ways it's simply another ladylike talent, like drawing, singing or playing piano, that well-bred young women are expected to develop. However, there's a Mr. Vincent who moves into the neighborhood, who is truly an accomplished artist with his glamour illusions. Jane wants to learn from his talent and magical works of art, but the two of them get off on the wrong foot and develop a relationship that's prickly, at best.

This struck me as simply a young adult novel ... or maybe a simple young adult novel. I thought it was okay, but on the shallow side. I had no problem finishing it, but I was hoping for so much more. Maybe I'll go re-read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
Profile Image for Eh?Eh!.
351 reviews4 followers
October 30, 2010
Thank you, brian tanabe!

Have you ever slapped someone, good and hard? I can still remember the one and only time I did, the anger boiling up and over, the near involuntary windup of the arm and spring-loaded swing-through, the crack of the hand on the offender's cheek, the numb and then sting in the palm, the blipping rush of incredible satisfaction instantaneously followed by a gushing of fear and guilt? Yeah. It felt good and solid before the last fear and guilt part. I still remember all that from when I slapped the little brat (who was bigger than me) in preschool, when I was four. This book brought it all back, because I wanted to slap every one of the characters. Idiots! All of them!

I think this is a YA novel, in particular because of the large and well-spaced font which seems to be characteristic of books for youths. Is this a false impression? It's like how crayons/text get slimmer/smaller as you get older and then graduate to colored pencils.

Presented as being inspired by Jane Austen, I think this book leans more heavily on her than that. The main character is named Jane, fcol (= for crying out loud, is that an acceptable abbr. yet? I'm not up on txtmsg speak), and she's a mush of all of Austen's main ladies (that I can recall, and my recollection is mostly from movies). The sister character is a mush of all the other sisters, the mother and father, the dashing but shady gentleman, the stiffly honorable gentleman with a sister, the misunderstood but in the end very appropriate gentleman, the noble neighboring lady and her nearly silent daughter, all mushed together from all of Austen's works. The situation and plotline are also cribbed but with the detail and minutiae stripped away, all the density of Austen's works gone. It's Austen lite.

Little magics are part of daily household life. It's not well-explained, but it looks like magic is meant to be for peasants, artists, and women in this world? Some men are described as working with their abilities to keep things cold...and actually, I think that's it. Well-bred gentlemen didn't seem to take part in it. But women and artists create beauty out of it, and a lady should be able to create illusions for the home just as she should be able to make conversation and play the piano forte.

The main character is such a damn pushover, gaaahhhhhh!!! Too accommodating, too polite, too rug-like. There were so many moments where the whole mess could've been cleared up with a few short sentences...gahhhh! The character, Jane, has magical talent but it wasn't a story where her abilities make her a heroine. She gets her happy ending, although the author seems to have gotten tired at the end and wraps the story up too swiftly after the big climactic confrontation, with a surpisingly curt last page. And she did that thing like in The Princess Bride (I automatically typed Bridge in there, again), where a potentially satisfying scene is skipped over like this: "Though he denied a skill at words, everything Mr. [spoiler] said in that tender moment brought Jane unbearable joy." Nooooo! Why can't you tell us what was said? I think I loved Juliet Marillier when I was younger because she didn't cut away from these moments with cop-out summaries of how wonderful it was, too wonderful to write here. Boo! There are moments when the overblown is appropriate, when you say "forever" and "always" and mean it. Isn't this the kind of book where you'd want to include that sort of speech?

This is more negative than I mean to be. It's a very pretty story and a quick, pleasant read. Maybe I'm cranky because I stayed up to finish it.
Profile Image for Grace.
254 reviews69 followers
August 8, 2010
This was an incredibly frustrating book. The charm of Austen lies in the style of writing: light, witty, insightful, elegant, and able to skewer Regency life at a moment's notice. And while "Shades of Milk and Honey" makes sure to pack in plenty of Regency manners and swooning, the writing style is so jarring that I ended up reading passages aloud to other people, just to confirm that they really did make no damn sense.

The author reuses words at an amazing pace -- frequently the same word is repeated in back-to-back sentences, sometimes three or four times in a paragraph. Worse, sometimes the author uses words she clearly doesn't understand ("droll", for instance, is applied to a completely humourless character multiple times, and appears to have been confused with a word that means "curt" or "short" instead of "amusing"). Sometimes she uses the archaic spelling of a word ("chuse"), sometimes she uses the modern spelling. Occasionally, she'll use a word that is archaic and proceeds to misuse it ("nuncheon" does not mean "lunch"), repeatedly. When you combine these bizarre word choices with laboured sentences that are borderline-incomprehensible, the experience is more like thumping down a stretch of rapids instead of Austen's effortless babbling brook.

The plot doesn't even get started until halfway through, at which point I already hate Brat and Doormat, which might as well be the names of the central sisters. Most of the characters in this book are so glaringly based on well-known Austen characters that it seems too obvious, and I waited in vain for the twist that would make them new and exciting. No such luck -- if anything, they were stripped of all endearing qualities and hammered flat into one-dimensional puppets. The magic elements are explained in detail, but are completely incidental to the story. By the end, we've given up all pretense of being in an Austen novel and have stumbled into some sort of quasi-Gothic adventure scene. I was just so happy to have gotten to the last pages, I didn't even care anymore.

I bought the book because I love Austen (and many Austeny spin-offs), and because I thought the conceit of magic being a womanly art was pretty cool. But now I'm just wondering what the hell reviewers were thinking in recommending this read. Having done a little more digging, it looks like Kowal is the VP of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I can't help but wonder if the circles she moves in has caused her writing to be overrated, as I have no idea why this particular book merited the sort of publicity push it's currently experiencing. I wish I hadn't read it.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 28 books128k followers
May 27, 2011
So there were many nice things in this book. The Austin-esque plot was interesting, and the main character and her relationship with her sister was layered, I really think the character was well-drawn and the best thing about the book. Her POV as the "plain" sister was written from a very real place.

I guess I just ached for a bit more complexity, with the plot (and romance) and the world-building. There's some VERY interesting magic conceits here, and I just wanted a bigger scope. I think the author could build upon this world for more and more interesting books. This one was a nice basic intro. I think the plot just needed more twists, and there needed to be MORE characters to act as red herrings to make the ending a bit more surprising.

I will read another by her though, def.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 148 books37.5k followers
July 10, 2016
This very talented writer has written a Regency romance that features a few of Jane Austen's spellings, adding in a truly nifty magical system. Unfortunately, the magic seems little integrated with the world, having almost no impact on the culture.

The comparison with Jane Austen might sell books, but that's also kind of a high bar. This story feels more like a Regency romance, without much of Austenesque irony or complication of character; on the other hand, it is not a retread of Georgette Heyer, which gains major points for me as a reader. (Not that I dislike Heyer or the re-invention of the silver fork sub-genre, I just would like to see authors venture out from under Heyerian influence a tad.)

The story takes time to warm up, and there are many period glitches (but I don't think those will be noticed by readers who aren't conversant with period literature), but when it finally gets going, there is a lot of comedy-of-manners identity mixed with magic thrown in to make it roll along. I thought the climactic scene humorously cinematic, though the ending rushes upon the readers a bit, especially considering the sedate start.

Profile Image for Samantha.
401 reviews16.6k followers
June 15, 2015
*4.5 stars*

Perfect for fans of Jane Austen that want the added flair of magic. The characters fill the typical Austen tropes, with their own spin. A lovely story for any fan of the Regency period.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,844 followers
February 10, 2017
Romance and Regency go hand in hand, but then, so does Art.

All the most talented ladies are skilled in the art of subterfuge and seeming, are they not?

Well, not Jane. She's conflicted about using Glamour and refuses to make herself seem more pretty than she is, while also being rather more talented than the rest of her family. Sure, its a common thing to know and use Glamour in the Regency era. Didn't you know? Magic is real, and no only can you create wonderful murals and play wonderful music without the gross aids of base paints or the piano forte, but it also gives us a tapestry to work out our own personal dramas.

How delightful!

I've always liked stories that bring up the conflict between lies and bringing forth truth from them. Passion and the heart were always best served through fiction and not stark reality. :)

As an opener into the series, it serves delightfully as a simple romance with silly girls getting into trouble and eligible men causing so much pain and ruckus. *sigh* But this is the nature of reality. *sigh* The novel isn't the most brilliant that I've read, and it's simplicity serves the magic more than the other way around, and that's fine.

Still, don't trust the blurb that this is much like the books listed there. Think Urban Fantasy meets Regency Romance and you'll be fine. :)
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews520 followers
March 2, 2011
Good God, I resent this book so much for not being awesome. Georgette Heyer put me in the mood for another regency, and combine that with fantasy? Sold.

I want a refund. The Heyer danced along, sparkly with charm; this book plodded, leaving me with an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and boredom at the shallowness and banality and insipidity of well-to-do country life. The conversation didn’t sparkle wittily, it clunked. And the heroine was frankly too stupid to keep breathing.

Mostly though, I resent the muddle. The magic here is glamour, a womanly art of illusion, used largely for entertainment. It is both dismissed and underestimated, largely by men. Hello metaphor for the entire practice of upper-class female husband-snaring existence. But Kowal seems to have no real control over that, and the overlapping stories of lies and truths are a mess. With a vapid little lesson about how real art requires passion plunked on top.

Profile Image for Celeste.
870 reviews2,309 followers
April 1, 2018
Full review now posted!

This was absolutely delightful.

Fantasy of manners is a subgenre that I didn’t realized I needed in my life. I’ve read books that technically fit the genre, such as the Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare and Alison Goodman’s Dark Days Club, but those both felt more like YA than anything else. Because they are. This was my first experience with an adult fantasy of manners, and I loved it.

Fantasy of manners is basically if Jane Austen had included magic in her writing. And that is exactly what this book was. So much so, in fact, that some people found the novel too derivative of Austen to merit enjoyment. I beg to differ. I picked this up because I wanted to see what an Austen novel would feel like with magic involved, and that is exactly what I got. While there were a few variations, that plot line and characters were remarkably similar to the famous cast of Pride and Prejudice, but it was so well written and the characters so well developed that it felt more like an ode to Austen than a plagiarism. That’s my take, at least.

The writing was perfectly lovely, and felt exactly like it sprang from Austen’s pen. I’ve never read a Regency-inspired novel that felt this true to the original writings that inspired them, and I’ve read a good many Regency novels. The prose never felt too heavy or like the author was trying too hard to mimic her inspiration. It was convincingly Regency, yet felt fresh at the same time.

One of the loveliest aspects of this novel was the magic system. In this alternate Regency era, glamour is another of the womanly arts that eligible bachelorettes in search of a husband are expected to deftly produce. This glamour is a weaving of the magical energy alive in the air. Glamour can be applied to music, allowing it to loop after being played or producing colors and shapes that complement the tune. It can also be applied to paintings and rooms, brightening them and adding life. But the most impressive use of glamour is found in the production of glamurals, living artwork that engages all five senses. These glamurals are usually attached to rooms, and can remain as long as the room survives. Working a convincing glamural is the epitome of success for an artist, be they male or female. However, there’s a catch; working too much glamour can leading to chills, fainting, or even death in extreme cases. This makes glamour the most dangerous of the womanly arts, but the respected, as well.

While this is the first book of a series, Shades of Milk and Honey is a perfectly self-contained story, giving readers a full story with a satisfying conclusion. It makes a wonderful standalone novel, if you happen to be looking for something to provide a break from the trilogies and series that fantasy novels always seem to come in. If you love Jane Austen and magic, I can’t recommend this highly enough. And if you need a book that is hopeful and has a happily ever after ending, this novel is a breath of fresh air.

Original review can be found at Booknest.
Profile Image for Lois Bujold.
Author 154 books37.5k followers
August 27, 2015
Jane Austen with Magic: specifically, Sense and Sensibility, for the most part. (Not, interestingly, Heyer-esque; Kowal goes for the older and less comic model.) I found it a very pleasant way to spend an evening, to be sure. Interesting magic system. I much enjoyed the final choice of hero, and the process of that choosing. There were several possibilities in play at first, and the methods of winnowing down the pack by both protagonist and author were instructive.

I suspect this crosses over from the F&SF audience to the Romance audience, and I suspect the two pools of readers read it through rather different frames. The Goodreads reviews would likely demonstrate same, but I'm out of time to read them this morning.

Ta, L.
Profile Image for Sarah.
147 reviews10 followers
May 27, 2014
I had the oddest reaction to this book - I enjoyed it while reading it, but the moment I'd finished it I couldn't stem a growing swell discontent. Certainly, Ms. Kowal's command of Regency-era literary styling was excellent - it felt of the time, without being unreadable to a modern reader. And her conceit of "glamour" started out as interesting, but unfortunately, like the rest of the book, really came to naught.

What kept me reading at first was the surety that something had to happen eventually. And I suppose at the very end it did, but when every other plot point had been dragged out past all reason, it seemed odd that the excitement would be over in a matter of two or three pages.

I think what Ms. Kowal was attempting was a gentle Regency romance, with magic thrown in. The trouble is, to a committed lover of the Romance genre such as myself, the romance in this book was an utter failure. She sets up two potential suitors for Jane, and we spend the majority of the book with the one she doesn't pick. The one she does is a cipher - why he falls in love with her is befuddling, especially when they've barely spent any time together. Why, in fact, does she love him? We know she admires his art, but surely admiration of a single skill isn't enough to build an entire romance upon!

Further, the magic in this book seems to only serve as a plot contrivance. There's nothing about where it came from, how it was discovered, why it is that glamourists should be itinerant (it's clearly more of a skill than just painting).

The kicker for me was how much I motherfucking HATED the character of Melody. She's Jane's younger, prettier, bitchier, sister - and she gets away with every bit of bad behavior. There are literally no real consequences for this girl, and meanwhile Jane is constantly trying to get back in her good graces. By the end of the book, I would have cheered if a tree had fallen on her.

All in all, not an unpleasant read while in progress, but very unsatisfying once one sits down to think about it at all.
Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
2,854 reviews1,494 followers
September 15, 2015
I suppose that it is natural to compare any competently written book featuring Regency-era gentry and romance to Jane Austen. Inevitable as it is, I kind of wish it weren't so common. This book isn't anything like Jane Austen except in the above surface aspects. The thing is, the book has a charm and grace of its own that I deeply enjoyed and appreciated and the fact it does so without cribbing noticeably from any of the Regency greats (most notably Austen and Heyer) is a really remarkable achievement.

Jane Ellsworth is a wonderful character. She's extremely kind, even in the face of great provocation, but without being a complete doormat. She's remarkable for her lack of beauty and that has bothered her throughout her life—and this isn't one of those "doesn't see her own inner beauty" deals, either, and is confirmed intertextually and without compromise. This is particularly painful for Jane when her sister, Melody, is an acknowledged beauty.

Kowal pulls us gracefully into Jane's life as she suffers the petty jealousies of her sister (I know, right?) and the inevitable loneliness of a sensitive, intelligent woman with a constrained social circle and little prospect of improvement. With all the excuse to despair, I was glad to join Jane as she channels her energies into the magic of glamor and into the people around her.

I'm still not sure what to think of the magic in the book. It was an interesting setup with a good mix of constraint and freedom but it also felt a little unexplored as well. Glamor seemed to be solely artistic and glamorists much like any other artist at the time—dependant on generous patrons and employed as much as status symbol as for any intrinsic value in and of themselves. Personally, I don't buy that. Even if glamor is all illusion and no substance there's a lot that can be done with even just that much. And a society with that ease of access to illusion would be more fundamentally different from our own, I think, than this story admitted to.

Still, since the magic was only an ancillary part of the story, the fact it didn't penetrate as well as I'd have liked didn't detract from my enjoyment of reading it. Kowal is good enough that the wit, dialogue, and manners of that era flowed seamlessly and realistically and the period feels right, otherwise (with only really minor details out of step with historical accuracy). It could be that broader changes from the magic weren't pursued in order to maintain that more accurate Regency feel.

So I enjoyed the novel quite a bit—mainly for the characters and relationships. The plot was fun and well-paced, and even if I yearned for more in some aspects, it wasn't enough to detract from a really fun read.
Profile Image for Heather.
319 reviews288 followers
April 25, 2017
3 stars
Review to come

This was a decent regency romance. With no smut.

A few things I think could be improved upon. But overall a solid read.

I would really like to see the magic elements of this become a lot more prominent later in the series though as the magic was very much low key here.
Profile Image for Allison.
545 reviews566 followers
August 12, 2018
More for the historical romance fan than the fantasy lover, the magic here largely took the place of art. The main focus is country neighborhood drama with a definite Austen feel to it.

If you enjoy fantasy of manners, you should enjoy this. I thought the magic added a nice touch to the romance.
Profile Image for Lisa.
346 reviews531 followers
June 20, 2017
Review from Tenacious Reader: http://www.tenaciousreader.com/2017/0...

Shades of Milk and Honey is a wonderful regency romance with just enough magic (or glamour) to add an extra layer of enchantment for the reader. For anyone who enjoys Jane Austen, I highly recommend this one. While the story is enjoyable, I also feel like this is a style of book where you just enjoy how it is told, and immersing yourself in the world and time period.

The main protagonist, Jane, is not a stunning beauty, but she does have an extraordinary ability to weave glamours (illusions). While she is past the normal marrying age and resigned to be spinster (her word, not mine), you also know that she will not lead a boring life. She has a passion for what she does, and a personality that can thrive with independence.

The book is full of potential romances. Jane’s sister, Melody, is as beautiful as Jane is not and several potential romances seem to be blooming. Melody may be beautiful, but her ability with glamour is not very strong. Being able to work glamours is a skill that is well regarded, and some may even consider essential, for ladies of the time. They use it to adorn their home, create flowers or patterns where there are none, create colors to go with music, illusions to make the home more beautiful.

Trying to determine the true motivations of all the characters and what their end goals might be is part of the fun. Overall, I just really enjoyed this one. It was a wonderful change of pace for me, and hit the spot perfectly. I wanted something lovely and fun, and was avoiding the darkness that I so typically seek out in books. It delivered everything I was looking for and to be honest, as soon as I finished it, I went straight into the next in series. Always a good sign.
Profile Image for Emily .
711 reviews72 followers
May 19, 2017
Super boring. 50% of the way through and there was still no plot. The writing is clunky, the conversations contrived, and did I mention boring?1 I quit. There's too many good things out there to read.
Profile Image for Siria.
1,715 reviews1,227 followers
April 24, 2014
Shades of Milk and Honey is a novel set in an alternate Regency England where genteel young women are expected to learn how to cast glamours as well as cover screens and knit purses. In an early scene, the protagonist Jane—a talented user of such glamours, though overlooked by many because of her plainness—tutors another young woman about glamours, showing her how the folds of light she's making are too clumsy, her stitches too obvious, the overall effect crude. This is, sadly, a good analogy of the book as a whole.

It's an amazing idea, an Austenian-inspired world in which magic is largely a female discipline, dismissed and undervalued, and the right author could make this funny and charming, like the best of Heyer, or full of wit and irony, like Austen. Kowal is not that author. The book plods, the pacing is terrible, the romance paint-by-numbers, the characterisation is completely lacking in nuance—the main characters, Jane and Melody, are both unlikeable. One is a pushover whom we're told is smart but who often acts like an idiot; the other is a vulgar brat, who acts like a more juvenile version of Marianne from Sense and Sensibility. You've probably also worked out from the latter's name that verisimilitude is not a priority of Kowal. I lost count of the number of times when I said, "But no one in Regency England would have behaved like that/said that/could have acted that way without raising numerous eyebrows." The ending descends into farce, exactly the kind of tosh that Austen was mocking in Northanger Abbey.

I want someone to take this and rewrite it. I want someone to write a Regency England with gendered magic, with a heroine who's got Lizzy Bennett's fire, who chafes at the dismissal of her abilities, who is nobody's muse. Now that is a book I would read with great satisfaction; I'm not moved to read the remainder of this trilogy at all.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,553 reviews1,632 followers
February 16, 2016
On the one hand, yes, this was fun because Jane Austen + magic = yes, as stated in one of my status updates while reading. If you go into the book expecting Jane Austen levels of wit and social satire, you are going to be disappointed. But I didn't. I went in expecting a fantasy novel set in an Austen-like world with an Austen-like romance plot, and so I was fine. And the magic system was really interesting to me.

So basically, this is Regency England if magic were real, and largely considered another art, just like music and painting and dancing, and one that is a concern for the ladies, rather than menfolk. This intersection of domesticity and femininity and art was something I found really interesting! And the magic itself was really cool in execution. Our main character, Jane, is talented at the art of glamour, as it's called, which is mostly used to create three dimensional, moving art for the senses (including movement, smell, and sound). One of the main reasons I will be continuing the series, despite some pretty significant flaws in this book, is because of the magic system.

On the other hand, Jane is insufferable for large portions of the novel, when clearly she isn't meant to be. Jane being insufferable is entirely a writing issue. I know we are meant to sympathize with her, "Plain Jane" the spinster, with the beautiful sister and no marriage prospects because NO ONE COULD POSSIBLY LOVE HER HOW PLAIN. And the thing is, I WANTED to. And I did, for about the first third of the novel. See, Jane is twenty-eight, which is basically fifty in Regency years. She is plain, with a long nose, but very talented at music and art and glamour. She also has an unrequited thing for her neighbor, Mr. Dunkirk, who seems to have a thing for her beautiful sister, and whom her sister likes in return. Her father will settle a nice sum of money upon her if she were to marry. Like in Pride & Prejudice, the Austen novel this one most resembles, her family's home is entailed, meaning it can only pass to male heirs. (I sort of wish this detail had been left out, as Kowal doesn't really do anything with it, whereas in P & P, it's crucial to understand why the Bennet matriarch is so set on her daughters marrying.)

Anyway, my point is, Jane is inherently likable! It really should have been super easy to keep us on her side. Unfortunately, she spends so much time being flat-out stupid it becomes very difficult. Only the most oblivious of readers and characters could fail to miss that Dunkirk doesn't give two shits about Melody, instead having a thing for Jane. He's always talking to her and ignoring Melody, he makes excuses to see her, invites her on walks and horseback rides with his sister, encourages her friendship with his sister, tells her explicitly that what he desires is a woman who can make his house seem like a home with her glamour, etc. etc. Melody even leaves the room and pouts for extended periods of time and Dunkirk doesn't notice. He shows almost no interest in her, save when she's injured. But it never once crosses poor Jane's mind, not even for an instant, that she could be the one he likes. Instead, she spends inordinate amounts of time being viciously jealous of her sister for having Mr. Dunkirk's favor, when their is LITERALLY no evidence of this, except Jane thinking she is so unworthy of male attention. Her sister is also viciously jealous of Jane's talent, and resents only being a pretty face, and when she expresses this sentiment to Jane, Jane dismisses it as false because she can't comprehend why her sister would ever feel like that. It was a huge waste of story and character in almost every respect.

The rest of the novel is just as uneven, with fun things balanced out by problems. For example, Jane's relationship with the passionate glamourist Mr. Vincent is pleasing, but there isn't nearly enough of it. At the end when The ending came out of nowhere.

It was also sloppy as hell, everything wrapping up lightning fast and cheesy (the book was clearly written as a standalone and expanded into a series only after the fact). I also didn't like the strange turn the story took once a character's true motivations had been realized. If this book was really a Jane Austen homage with magic, that whole thing with should never have happened. Jane Austen plots are resolved with talking, not fighting.

Anyway, this book was a mixed bag, but it was a quick read, and overall I think my pleasure in reading it was outweighed by my annoyances. I will continue the series, and hopefully now that she's got the marriage plot and Austen homage out of the way, she can get on with building her own story world where her characters won't have to act like dum dums.
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,228 reviews625 followers
September 28, 2010
I finished Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal and I was bit mixed; from early word of mouth and reviews I have expected a more substantial book rather than the very light beach reading novel this turned out to be; it is pretty much Jane Austen light, without any real social commentary or depth to the world building, all revolving around relationships and romance, while magic is pretty in-essential to the story except as a vehicle of allowing the main character to 'shine" as a "plain" woman in a patriarchal society where beauty or at least prettiness and the lack of would have been otherwise determinant.

Once you accept what the book is, it's very well written and enjoyable to the end, a fast 2-3 hour read perfect for summer.

Overall if you are into light historical romance I would recommend this, but I hope the author uses her considerable writing skills to pen a deeper book
Profile Image for Athena.
240 reviews40 followers
August 13, 2017
2.5 stars, rounded up because why are there 4 different GR stars for flavors of 'like' and one star for 'not for me'?
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On the whole I'm finding this Pride and Prejudice re-imagining to be enjoyable, though its flaws ultimately proved difficult for me to get past. Not least of these is the character of Melody Ellsworth, the younger of the two Milk & Honey Ellsworth daughters, who seems to be a melding of several of Austen's Bennet daughters into one. Did Kowal's editors think her readers couldn't handle more than one sister?

The book starts with a great deal of warm affection between Melody and her sister Jane, from Jane's POV, though it rapidly devolves into the lovely Melody flirting with all the available men and being an utter bitch to Jane, all the time. Frankly it's difficult to imagine how Jane was capable of holding much affection at all for her unless Melody underwent a complete secret personality transplant shortly after the first chapter. The vague excuse that Melody is jealous of Jane's artistic talent doesn't fly: Melody seems incapable of self-awareness and I just don't believe that she doesn't find her beauty sufficient, particularly as she is the center of most of the attention most of the time and her mother's clear favorite. The Ellsworth father is far less of a presence than is Mr. Bennet in P&P, so his preference for Jane is hardly noticeable in the small Ellsworth family.

The conclusion of the book is more than a little affected, too. Suddenly Jane's perceptions of individuals from weeks of interacting with them are changed forever by one circumstance, and minor characters are rather precipitously thrust into the spotlight. The author's handling of character development is a bit clumsy, she seems to have trouble showing the shades-of-gray that comprise most of humankind. Where Austen's Elizabeth spent time analyzing her feelings and behaviors, Kowal's Jane just floats along with the current until suddenly she doesn't.

The book is affected in spelling: 'shewed' for 'showed', 'teaze' for 'tease' which was amusing until the obvious lack of similar pre-modern Austenian grammar made the spelling look like the affectation it was.

Ultimately it was the build up of little things that took what started out as a witty salute to Jane Austen into the realm of 'oh look how clever I am.' It left a tinge of unpleasant hipster aftertaste every time one of those little things cropped up, although perhaps it's my own prejudice in ascribing a hipsterness too it, perhaps instead it's just that bog-standard 'witter-than-thou and I'll be on the New York Times bestseller list so there' type of authorship that makes me want to smack someone.

There's also an inexcusable occasional clunkiness in the writing that intrudes, a lack of agility with words that is in no way an Austenism and for which the editors bear total responsibility:
Lady FitzCameron was known to pride herself on the elegance of her table, but took no joy from entertaining. On the occasions when the Ellsworths had been invited to sup with her, she had always received them with the utmost grace, yet remained reserved in attitude. She knew her duty to her neighbours and paid attention to them gladly, but it went no deeper than that: she seemed to care only for her own."
Her "own" what? AWK-ward …
486 reviews55 followers
October 15, 2012
The Regency-plus-magic in which Jane takes us through the tiniest shades of her emotions regarding her plainness, her relationship with her beautiful sister, Melody, and her marriage prospects, while the magic is confined to literally decorative use.

I didn't care for this. The pacing was such that for almost two hundred pages nothing happens but feeeeelings, and then suddenly revelations and chases and duelling pistols and so on are rushing by so quickly that the characters don't seem to be able to register them. I got very tired of Jane's insecurities. The key romantic relationship is weirdly both heavy-handed and undersupported.

In the acknowledgements, the author says that Jane Austen "has taught me much about the importance of small details." So I don't feel so petty about being really irritated by so many small details, such as young Regency ladies falling asleep "without undressing" (I think you mean "without summoning a maid to undress her," and I also think it's quite unlikely that anyone could sleep in full Regency drag), gentlemen introducing their daughters to solicitors using their first names, and anyone of that time period accepting the hideous neologism "glamural."

Edited to add: I just remembered: A perfectly ordinary marriage conducted within like a week of the engagement, with no special license and no publishing of the banns! Little things like this add up to a Regency setting that feels thin and inauthentic.
Profile Image for Hannah Cassie.
393 reviews144 followers
February 18, 2017
MORE? MORE! @ P.S. I love that book!

THE WORLD: In this book we travel to older times when women were praised for their beauty and talent in music and arts. Their only purpose of life was to fine a nice and wealthy man and have a beautiful family. Just like in Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, the book is set in country suburbs were balls are the highest entertainment. However, another thing exists in this world and that is glamour. It is really pulling the strings of ether and adjusting the against the light that creates the illusion of warmness and beauty. But it is not over hyped, it just treated as a form of art and not to make oneself beautiful, as a matter of fact one girl was trying to cover her terrible teeth with glamour and that was looked at as something inappropriate. All in all, I really loved the world, being again in Jane Austin type of world was really making me warm all over and having that addition of glamour...ah what a perfection.

CHARACTERS: The centre of the book are two sisters, the older one being very talented but looking as a average type of girl and the younger one being a impressive beauty but absolutely empty beyond that. The older sister is named Jane (what a pretty simple name) and she knows she is most likely not going to find a husband. Therefore, she spends all her time in arts at which she is excellent to the point that people around know about her talents. The gentlemen present in this book are a few. Mr Dunkirk is a man who is looking for a wife but instead of a beauty he want a talented woman who would not bore him. He is rather nice and likable to the point when his younger sister arrives and he becomes rather extreme and obsessive. Then there is Captain Livingston who is really Mr Wickham of Pride and Prejudice and well...nobody likes Mr Wickham. And then we get Mr Vincent aka Mr Darcy. Well...I love Mr Darcy but I very much love Mr Vincent too, I like how he is portrait in this book, such man would interest me in place of Jane as well.

In general, I liked the little difference withing the characters in comparison to Pride and Prejudice. I found Jane a little bit more lovable that Liz and the little sister was not as terrible as Lydia. Plus, I really liked how it went with Mr Dunkirk who well from his position would have been Mr Darcy and then you really see that it is not exactly the same story.

LOVE: Now because it already kinda says on the back of the book that Jane and Mr Vincent get together, I really loved their romance. They really fit each other perfectly.

PLUS: This book is the first in the series but at the end the reader is given a choice: you can finish now or you can continue with the series. The thing is, it kinda says in last few pages that they lived happily ever after but then you see the next books in the series and they are about Jane and Mr Vincent too, so I think that was brilliant what author did. And yes, I am very much continuing with this series.

MINUS: The parents of Jane...they are just like in Pride and Prejudice and can be summarized basically in one word - stupid. Now, the father of Jane is not as bad as was Mr Bennet with still, very annoying. And don't get me started on the mother. You can see the reason divorce became popular eventually.

OVERALL: It took me a little bit longer to read this book that expected because it has this chunk of text sometimes rather than dialogues but in the end I am happy about it because I felt like all was very well explained and did not feel forced. Plus, as a fan of Pride and Prejudice I appreciate this book even more for it hitting right at the point. I know there rather a few books that are similar to Pride and Prejudice but I never read any that were so on point and still refreshing. And that glamour...just what I needed. So yes, cannot get my hands on the next book!

MORE? MORE! @ P.S. I love that book!
Profile Image for Avrelia.
63 reviews6 followers
January 24, 2011
This is the book I was looking forward to love. It had wonderful reviews from people I trust, it had that lovely mash of ingredients I love, it had an interesting magic concept... I read and was underwhelmed, and now, a month and a half later I can hardly remember what it was about. It is a regency novel with magic in it. But it seemed that the regency part and the magic part were too diluted to give space for each other that that the whole book seems too empty. I liked the characters well enough, but they didn't look significantly different or memorable which makes me sad. There are definite allusions to Jane Austen – who else we start thinking about when reading a book set in early 19th century England? But comparison isn't flattering – for all their simplicity, Austen's novels are so rich – in details, in characters, in humour, in inner connections between everything. This story feels like an enchanted mural, an amusing illusion that would dissipate by the nest day, by comparison. But maybe it is supposed to?
So we have not-so young Jane, who is plain, but has a great talent for magic and art. And we have her young sister Melody who is very beautiful, but talentless. Both are somewhat resentful of each other and both have formed attachment to one gentleman (don't remember the name). There is also his very young sister, another dashing your officer, a disapproving viscountess with her long-nosed daughter, patient father, silly mother, and the regular assortment of figures one can find in any book set in the era. There is also an artist who is making a glamural for the viscountess and is angry with Jane for prying into his secrets. So we have all this fun ingredients – and nothing fun happens. Oh, the book moves smoothly from one chapter to another, with no loss of momentum, no straying of your attention everywhere, but when you get to the end, nothing much stays with you, either.
It is not a bad book. It is not uninteresting book. I probably suffered from my own overblown expectations. But I don't really feel like ever re-reading it.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 109 books694 followers
April 6, 2012
If you told me that this was an actual Regency-era fiction, I would probably believe you. Kowal's research is impeccable, and the book feels authentic to the time it recreates. Except, you know, with the addition of subtle magical glamour, which seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for a young lady of good breeding to have done with her time, so I don't see why I should doubt that aspect. Kowal sets up the slight divergence from reality in expert fashion, slipping it into the first paragraphs of the book as if it were perfectly natural, and really had been there all along. I wouldn't be surprised to go back to Jane Austen to find the Bennet sisters working folds of glamour as they sat around arguing about potential suitors.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,544 reviews2,931 followers
June 4, 2015
I read this as part of the #TBRTakedown and I have to say I didn't know exactly what I was getting into when I began this as it's set in a rather 'prim and proper' society, not what I usually read. This is a fairly classical story with many of the same elements as those in jane Eyre (which is what Kowal states as a large influence) and I freely admit that I have yet to read (and may not ever read) Jane Eyre. However, despite my usual disinterest in classics I am in no way put off by the language or period, I just like books with magic, and this one had a blend of all three.

This is set in Regency England and follows a young lady called Jane. She's known by her friends and neighbours as a women with high skill at manipulation of Glamour (the magic of this world) but, although this is a great and artistic talent, she's not the prettiest lady around. Jane is getting on a little (by the standards of the day of course, not modern standards) and even she believes herself to be a spinster of a sort because she's yet to find a husband. She practises her Glamour regularly and happily amuses her family and friends with her skills, but she does long for a little more and when the Dunkirks move in as new neighbours she discovers the potential for new romance, friends, magic and mischief.

When I began this I was a little unsure of how I would feel because although I enjoyed the writing style immediately (and I do believe Kowal writes beautifully and convincingly) it's a lot shorter than I tend to usually go for and I was worried I may feel it was underdeveloped. This was certainly not the case. The story began slowly by easing us into the characters and showing us hints at who they are, their passions and their personalities. Once the groundwork is laid we then begin to see the weavings of a story and this only continues to gain more drama and excitement as it goes on.

The magic of this world, although never expressly explained, is a lot of fun because by manipulating strands from the Ether you can craft weaves that will display anything you desire and have the skill to craft. The art is highly revered but actually few have the level of skill that Jane does and when she encounters someone in the book whose skills amaze her, well there truly is something magical going on then!
As for the magic, I found I didn't need an exact explanation because I could envision and picture everything as it was described and having the mystery of the magic made it even more surreal and wondrous. I enjoyed seeing the application of Glamour to dresses, furniture, music, plays and even decor and I think it certainly is inspiring and exciting in the potential it has.

On the whole this may not be an epic fantasy like I am usually reading, but as a surprising little story it really did have some wonderful moments and despite some of the predictable moments, it managed to make me smile or fret over the characters within. I would rate it a 4.5* and I will certainly continue with the series as I already have book 2 and 3 and having enjoyed this one an awful lot I look forward to getting to them. Recommended :)
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,003 followers
November 22, 2010
I'm vacillating between two and three stars on this one -- it's not halfway between, I'm just trying to decide whether I'll give it credit for keeping me reading, or dock it for how very high its debt to Jane Austen's work is. It's basically a cut and paste job on Austen's characters and situations, and while the writing is competent enough, it doesn't have the same subtlety and humour that Jane Austen brought to her work. It suffers very much in comparison, because of its debt.

The fantasy woven into it lies awkwardly on top of Jane Austen's work, I found, and wasn't fully explored. For example, if the working of glamour is so essential to a lady, but so few men do it, why is there no sign of any assumptions of effeminacy that would likely go with that? There's a few hints that being a "glamuralist" -- a person who goes around making complicated artwork out of glamour for people who don't have the skill themselves -- is considered lower class work, perhaps, or is stigmatised in some way, but at the same time both male and female characters admire Mr. Vincent's work, and hardly seem to treat him with inferiority.

Something about the language Kowal used doesn't ring true for me, either. When you read Jane Austen, it's plain that she's writing in her own style, in a natural sort of manner. The style of this, though, is so plainly a copy of someone else's style, and the gaps show through in the choice of language here and there.

I think I'll settle for two stars, "it was ok", since I'm not turned off Kowal's work, and enjoyed it well enough to fill a few hours.
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews1,994 followers
March 22, 2020
This was exactly the book that I needed to read while stuck at home (I mean, ). In this version of regency England, using the "glamour" that exists in the ether to create subtle effects - from a light scent in the air to a full atmospheric glen in the dining room - is a sought-after talent, and the plain Jane Ellsworth excels at manipulating glamour. But as always, it's difficult for someone who lacks beauty to find an eligible husband, and Jane is sure that her younger and more beautiful sister Melody will marry before her. The marriage plot ensues!

The most successful part of the book is the glamour, which I loved because it was both simple and elegant. It was easy to imagine how the women of the era would manipulate glamour as they played pianoforte, or enhance their paintings. Most men are blind to glamour before it's manipulated, and using glamour gives the worker a headache, which I thought was a really interesting side effect for a womanly art (she exerts herself so much that she is weak and has to lie down, etc.). The glamural that Mr. Vincent creates for Lady FitzCameron feels natural to the story because it's otherworldly in its specifics but so very regency in its taste.

The story itself, which revolves around Jane and Melody, was fine. The strained sisterly relationship between them was recognizable but also so frustrating to read. At times, it feels like Melody is cartoonishly bad, but then there are glimmers of possible self-absorption from Jane (who is, again, ten years older than her sister!). I would have liked this a lot more without the constant competition between them, which ends up not being a competition at all. The plot itself is also too complicated. Some thoughts, with spoilers:

Anyway, I enjoyed this a lot and would recommend it to anyone who likes regency romance or regency novels in general. I'm definitely reading the rest in the series.
Profile Image for QNPoohBear.
2,918 reviews1,469 followers
November 13, 2013
This is a very quiet book along the lines of Sense and Sensibility. Readers of Jane Austen's novels will recognize characters and situations, but in this book there is a much more realistic undercurrent of jealously between the two sisters. Plain Jane thinks she is ugly and will never attract a husband. She's extremely self-deprecating which made me wants to slap her at times. She is almost too good yet I cared for her and wanted her to be happy. I could relate to Jane more than Melody. Melody is young and a bit foolish but she has depth, more than Marianne Dashwood. I didn't much like her though, she reminded me too much of my own younger sister. Most of the characters in the novel are taken from Jane Austen or are typical of period novels. The male characters are better developed and more original for the most part. The lack of original characterization makes the finale of the plot predictable but also frustrating because there's little development between two characters who come together at the end. The plot is interesting though I wish the author had explained the glamour better. It's a bit murky, especially in the beginning, but more explanation is given as the novel progresses. It would be nice to know from whence the glamour comes and how exactly one pulls it out of the ether, how it is used and why women seem to have more education in glamour than men. The romance is quiet - more of a meeting of true minds than a grand sweeping passion, which I really liked. The characters share a passion which brings them together. I wish that the romance had developed a bit more and wasn't so rushed though. The author writes (and spells) in the manner of Jane Austen. I liked the writing style a lot but it does make the story slow and novices may have a hard time getting into the book because of the structure. Despite the flaws, I enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more by this author. I would recommend this book to Janeites and those who frequently read Victorian and Edwardian novels. Those looking for high fantasy or passion will be disappointed. This book may also appeal to a young adult bluestockings and Janeites.
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