on 4 February 2014
This is one of the growing family of books inspired by Jane Austen. The plot is an amalgam of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma”, with a little “Persuasion” thrown in. However the story becomes far more elaborate as it progresses, so that I was kept guessing until the end whether the heroine was going to end up with Mr Darcy or Mr Knightley (since it was clear from the outset that Captain Wentworth wasn’t in the running).
What saves this book from being just another Jane Austen imitation is the addition of “glamour”. This is an art form based, apparently, on plucking folds out of the ether and then working them to create sensory illusions. In the course of the book we gradually discover more about glamour, which is used not only to produce visual works of art, but also sounds and scents. It is a suitable occupation for young ladies along with drawing and music, and can be used to enhance both. It is clear that the author has developed the concept of glamour in great detail, even giving it a history, as there is a reference to a system of notation which already existed in Ptolemy’s day. However, there is no single explanation of glamour in the course of the novel, but rather hints and suggestions are dropped throughout the book, in the same way that in the fictional world it describes, glamour may add an additional touch to a painting or a piece of music.
The language and social mores are well done on the whole, although I noticed the occasional turn of phrase which, while it did not contain any words which might not have been used by the original Miss Austen, would probably not have appeared in that particular combination. I also doubt whether a lady of that era would have been called Melody or Joy.
on 12 March 2012
A quick and easy read in the style of Jane Austen, set in a world where magic exists in the shape of glamour, complicated sensory illusions, and is considered one of the arts a proper girl must know in order to fetch a good marriage. The story follows Jane Ellsworth, a gifted glamourist but unlucky in love, as she accidentally stumbles into a series of secrets that threaten the honour of her family and her friends.
The plot is not very complicated, as the pleasure resides more in the comedy of manners that ensues than in the twists. There are a couple slips here and there and the ending seems a bit rushed even for a period novel, but I very much look forward to the sequel, if only to see if the author will explore more of the implications of magic into the world, which are only hinted at in this novel.
on 16 January 2015
Shades of Milk and Honey is absolutely lovely. I picked this book up sometime in 2013, and only started reading it this December, which I declared ARC-free.
This is a tranquil, delicate and very beautiful read which I named one of my best reads of 2014. It's quietly charming, unhurried, and if you are a fan of Jane Austin, you are guaranteed to love it.
Jane is a 28-year-old spinster, plain, good-natured, ever so patient, and her only distinction is that she is extremely gifted self-taught glamourist with an exceptional taste. On the other hand, her younger sister, Melody, is a beautiful, vivacious, self-centered empty head, who keeps casting her designs on everyone who shows her even the slightest attention.
Enter Mr. Dunkirk (Mr.Darcy slash Mr. Bingley). He has a younger sister of shy, nervous disposition and with a scandalous past, whom Jane takes under her wing. Mr. Dunkirk secretly admires Jane who likes him in return but thinks that Melody is the subject of his attention because her sister fancies him very much.
If that is not confusing yet, enter Mr. Vincent (definitely Mr. Darcy material!). An exceptional glamourist, famous and well-sought, he is hired by a local socialite for a score of festivities.
Jane is absolutely enamoured with his art, but each encounter with sourly artist only rises their hackles, and both totally misunderstand each other until a whirlwind of dramatic events which leads to happily ever after for now.
This is an exquisite, gorgeous historical fantasy, and I can't wait to read anything else Miss Kowal has to offer! Highly recommended, utterly charming.
on 10 December 2012
This book wants to be, as its author freely admits, a cross between Jane Austen and "Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrel", and it doesn't fail in that, although it is more the first than the latter. The world-building is excellent; the author succeeds is sucking you into a convincing (and charming) world of Regency England plus a little bit of magic. The characters are wonderfull; they are sympathetic, well-rounded and realistic. The author tried to give their speech a period feel that sometimes came off as an affectation, but it wasn't too intrusive and I got used to it. The romance was sweet and the author's ruminations on art interesting.
The only major problem with this book is the plot; frankly it is too thin to support a full-length novel and would be better suited to a short story. For about half of the book nothing much happens, we are introduced to the characters and the world and given a few subtle hints about the plot. Even when the plot moves into full swing, there is not much of it and it is fairly commonplace and completely predictable.
I did like reading this book, but I won't be rushing to buy the sequel.
on 21 April 2014
The original idea of combining Austen with magic could be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the setup doesn't quite work. As a Regency novel it is just too thin on the richness of an Austen novel and its characters. Kowal's characters do not rise above cliche. As a fantasy novel is is just too thin on the magical background and magic as a concept. And as an engaging story it just hasn't enough happening. Lots of stilted conversations and repetitively repressive conventions do not make an interesting plot. Perhaps this is weak because it is a first in a series (benefit of the doubt made for the second star) but I'm not sure that I will bother to find out.
There are better historical novels to read - with or without magic as decorations. Borrow from the library or a friend if you are that pushed.
on 15 January 2014
This book is a genteel 'Regency' style book with a dash of magic - imagine Pride & Prejudice with glamour. Imagine a world where as well as improving her sewing, painting and pianoforte, a young lady had to opportunity to decorate and embellish, with the help of glamours. Unfortunately, due to the times, this is only allowed in home (where it is encouraged) but never, for a lady, can it become anything else.
This is a world where ladies are still set to 'marry well', come out in Society and become spinsters if they are not married within a seemly time. Jane is roughly the age where she can be a chaperone, rather than being chaperoned, and she is quite content with this although she does have her eye set on someone. Unfortunately he seems rather more attracted to her sister, the beautiful Melody. However, as we all know, although the surface may be calm in these books, the passion runs deep. Before she knows it, Jane is at the heart of secrets and trying to do her best by everyone.
I thought this book was very well written, which characters that you can associate with. You are left guessing right until the end as to how this will work out for everyone. Mary Robinette Kowal has done a wonderful job of keeping the story moving along but still giving you time to adjust to the period in which it is set. A lovely light read perfect for any historical fiction fans out there.
on 13 March 2016
It's a bold author who states that their work is inspired by Jane Austen. So we are presented with this historical story of rigid rules and manners - with magic.
The magic idea was interesting - and certainly added, rather than detracted from this tale.
Problem was in the characters and the story itself. There was nothing new here, except characters we have seen over and over again and whom are cliched to the point of my yawning. There are no twists and you can see the plot points coming from miles away. And whilst Jane, our h, is an adequate lead, her thoughts are repetitive and her feelings detailed to the point of recording every breath.
Biggest problem of all is, IMHO, this is supposed to be a romance - here is a hint for the author - the two leads should interact, they should converse, they should share more than the rare occasional scene. As far as I can work out, the h fell in love with the H, because he was in love with her - though I still can't work out where/when he had a chance to develop such emotions.
Take the magic elements and add them to a bolder tale - that's the book I would want to read.
A Regency romance in the style of Jane Austen, borrowing heavily from Pride and Prejudice, with a bit of Sense and Sensibility thrown in, but with a twist; the addition of magic. Magic in the form of glamour illusion, which is an accomplishment every young lady should have along with the ability to play the piano and paint water colours. Here we have the plain but accomplished elder sister, the pretty but spoilt younger sister, the handsome neighbour and possible hero with a young sister, the handsome but taciturn possible hero, and of course the handsome charming cad who turns all the young ladies heads, the slightly dippy mother, as per Austen. It's a nice enough read, but in my opinion the author spends too much time on explaining and describing the glamour illusions throughout the book and less on developing the actual plot. The other thing I found odd, was that the final chapter reads more like an epilogue where she ties everything up and explains what happens to the characters in the future. However, this is book one in a series, so why did she bother to do that?
on 31 May 2014
If you are a Lisa Kleypas or Kathryn Kennedy fan do not buy this book. I sadly found the story very tedious and slow. I felt there was very little chemistry between the characters and that they were neither likeable or unlikeable just boring. I love Austen but this had no fire or passion between the characters. Very disappointing.
on 25 December 2013
I found this a fun book, more in the style of Austen than a modern Regency Romance, but with the added fantastical twist of a gentle kind of magic. A proper comedy of manners, replete with secret loves, misunderstandings, jealous siblings, rogues, heroes (dashing and otherwise) - an all round pleasant romp! The fantasy elements are enough to be interesting and move the plot along without throwing the reader completely out of the period mood. Overall, a lovely gentle historical fantasy with some brilliant characters. I will be buying others in this series!