Jacob Proffitt's Reviews > Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
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really liked it
bookshelves: romance, historical-fantasy, chaste

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.
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Reading Progress

January 20, 2013 – Shelved
March 28, 2014 – Started Reading
April 13, 2014 – Shelved as: romance
April 13, 2014 – Shelved as: historical-fantasy
April 13, 2014 – Finished Reading
September 15, 2015 – Shelved as: chaste

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