Olga Godim's Reviews > Of Noble Family

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
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really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy-scifi

As always, the author delivers a solid story, continuing the tale of Jane and Vincent, a loving married couple, a few years after Napoleon’s defeat. Both are talented artist-glamourists, but the British Empire is in mourning for the death of a princess, and glamour, as a frivolous art, is not performed. Perforce, Jane and Vincent enjoy their much-needed vacation in Europe.
For the explanations of glamour, a magic art of illusion, and the protagonists’ previous (mis)adventures, I refer you to the novels 1 through 4 in the series. All the books are stand-alone, but the pleasure of reading them is greatly enhanced if one reads them in the right sequence.
In this novel, #5 in the series, Vincent receives a letter from his brother that their father died recently on his plantation in Antigua. The estate is in disarray, the brother is ill, and he asks Vincent to go and sort out the particulars.
Vincent’s relationship with his father, an authoritarian, narrow-minded, and manipulative man who didn’t brook any opposition, was always filled with hatred and rebellion, until Vincent completely disassociated himself from the family and even took on a different name for himself. Now, he is an independent man and he doesn’t owe anything to any member of his family. He doesn’t have to go to Antigua, there is nothing for him there, but the brother’s plea for help affects him nonetheless. Jane thinks they should go, especially because, due to the empire-wide mourning, they don’t have any commissions to create glamour. In the end, they go.
Unfortunately, when they arrive to the West Indies, the situation proves completely different from what they expected and much harder to sort out. Everything they believed as true turns out to be a lie.
The prevalent theme of the book is slavery, a painful topic from any angle. The author doesn’t pull her punches either. For me, this was the hardest book of the entire series. Too much cruelty and suffering, inherent in the slavery system, surrounds our heroes on all sides, and only their mutual love helps them to endure.
Jane and Vincent’s love and support for each other permeate all five novels of the series. Their love defines them. It is charming and immense, but to tell the truth, it seems a little over the top. Call me jaded, but I’ve never encountered such all-abiding love in real life, even in the most successful, happily married couples.
Everywhere I turn, the relationship between men and women, husbands and wives is strained, at least to some degree. At worst, it resembles an open warfare of the divorce variety. At best, it seems a diplomatic state of truce, a constant balancing of give and take. Nobody loves her or his life partner with such a complete willingness to sacrifice her/his own well-being on the altar of the partner’s happiness. I’ve never encountered such people. Only in fiction, and that is rare as well. Am I just unhappy? Too cynical? Am I surrounded by bad families? I don’t know, but my doubts of Jane and Vincent’s all-consuming love spoiled the effect of the book for me.
The world building in this novel is superb, and unlike the love aspect, very realistic, but it’s that very realism that made me uneasy. I’m not a fan of history, especially its most brutal facets, and slavery is definitely one of those. I prefer less intense storytelling, but that doesn’t diminish the book’s power. It’s just my personal opinion.
Overall, it’s a strong story, told by a talented writer. It reads fast and leaves a lasting impression. That I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous books of the series reflects my personal preferences more that the book’s quality. Definitely worth a read.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 4, 2015 – Shelved
July 4, 2015 – Shelved as: fantasy-scifi
July 4, 2015 – Finished Reading

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