17 September 2010

Book review: Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal. 2010.

I finished this book on Wednesday, but I've been trying to figure out what to say other than "OMG you guys, go buy this book right now!" (Which you should do, really.)

This is Kowal's debut novel, though it's not her first published work.

The idea behind the novel is this: What if Jane Austen had lived in a world where magic was real? What sort of novel would she have written? Then Kowal set out to do just that.

There's a main character, Miss Jane Ellsworth, aged 28, plain, and unwed. She has a younger sister, Melody, aged 18, who is beautiful. Jane has a great talent for glamour (the magical art, which is considered one of the arts a lady should learn, like painting, playing piano, and French), but Melody does not. Mr. Ellsworth is a delight - he loves his daughters, but he has no patience for nonsense (like fainting from nerves).

Their neighbor, Lady FitzCameron, hires an artist to make a glamural (a wall painting suffused with glamour). Jane sees it, while in progress, and she looks at the etheric folds that create it, and inadvertently offends the creator, Mr. Vincent.

Their other neighbor, Mr. Dunkirk, receives his sister for a visit, and she and Jane become fast friends. Melody and Jane both find him attractive, and there is no lack of sibling rivalry there.

Of course, not all goes perfectly, and there's a bit of Drama, but all ends well. It's a romance, you see.

Her writing is consciously Austen-esque. Kowal said she would write a chapter, then read a chapter of Austen, to get a feel for it. I'm not a connoisseur of Austen's work, but I think she did a good job of it. (I can compare her style to Heyer's, and I find Kowal's more lovely, where Heyer's is somewhat over the top.) It also reminds me a bit of Swordspoint in the prose style.

In conclusion: if you like Jane Austen; if you liked Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (or even if you thought it was a bit long and dragged a bit, but you like the idea of the Regency + magic); if you like Georgette Heyer, go out and buy Shades of Milk and Honey right now. You won't regret it.

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