The past week or so I’ve been on a huge craving for something historical, or Victorian, or Austenesque(originally reviewed on Starmetal Oak Reviews)
The past week or so I’ve been on a huge craving for something historical, or Victorian, or Austenesque with a bit of fantasy and I knew that Shades of Milk and Honey would temper it. It’s a story about Jane Ellsworth, the eldest daughter of the family at twenty-nine and on her way to spinsterhood. She has a younger, more beautiful sister looking for a husband and managing to outshine Jane in almost any situation. Except glamour. Glamour, in this 19th century alternate history, is part of the feminine arts along with drawing, painting and piano. Women learn this as part of their studies in the hope of attracting a good husband – and any eligible man would find a woman skilled in the art of glamour enticing, as they really enhance the home with their magic.
Much of the book is spent around Jane and her sister Melody’s social engagements with the neighbors, the Dunkirks and the FitzCamerons. All of these interactions – Melody and her young courtiers, Jane and Mr. Dunkirk – seem a little mundane and predictable in this kind of story. We all know of the romances of this period and there are common tropes such as the young scoundrel trying to woo all the ladies, the quiet yet brooding artist, and the overbearing noble everyone tries to please. The part where this novel stands out is in the subtle world building. Glamour isn’t just what you think it is – the ability to alter the way something looks or is perceived. Glamour is the art of manipulating folds in the ether to create tableaus, enhance artwork, record music, or to also change your appearance (although this is frowned upon). I was pleasantly surprised and charmed by the way Kowal weaves glamour magic into the story in such a seamless way.
Unfortunately I wasn’t as impressed with Jane as a character. While I like to root for the underdog, Jane lacked substance in many areas. Although she is twenty-nine and almost given up with finding a husband, she seems to be obsessed with suitors and overly concerned with her appearance. She has talent as a glamourist and is perhaps a sweet person, but I found her motivations shallow. On top of that, I didn’t really connect with her romance (if that’s what it was) that was playing out through the book. She interacted and maybe showed interest in some of the suitors but there wasn’t really any chasing or butterfly-inducing love.
That being said, the last 50 pages of the book really picked up the pace and the stakes. I really enjoyed these last scenes and didn’t see the romantic ending coming. I was largely happy with the ending and it solidified tracking down the sequel to find out more of what happens.
Overall, I enjoyed this quick, light fantasy and recommend it to fans of Austen or historical fantasy. It’s a little predictable and familiar, but offers charming magic and a fun story. Shades of Milk and Honey is followed by Glamour in Glass, which I hope to read and explore this world further....more