Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: Shades of Milk and Honey (Shades of Milk and Honey #1)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Genre: Historical Romance, Paranormal Romance
Heat Index: 1 out of 5
Release Date: July 26th, 2010
Word/Page Count: 304 pages
Format: Purchased

The fantasy novel you've always wished Jane Austen had written

Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane's skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody's suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right--and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

After reading this book, I was browsing through a couple of other reviews while trying to order my own thoughts and came across a commentary that referred to this book as “Jane Austin light.” Upon reflection, I honestly feel this is the best way to describe this novel to anyone who might express an interest in reading it.

Ms. Kowal takes an age in which it is a universally acknowledged truth that a woman in want of securing a good marriage must be in possession of a manner of drawing room accomplishments, ones such as painting and playing the piano, and turns it on its head. Instead, the most desirable skill in a young lady is now her ability in the use and manipulation of glamour. Glamour folds are pulled from the universe and used to enhance or even completely redecorate a room, woven into murals and paintings, or even used to change a person’s appearance, though all are done at a cost to the artist.

While Jane Ellsworth is considered to be the plainer of two sisters, she is also the more gifted and is a skilled glamourist. While her skills eventually create a rift between Jane and her sister Melody, they also draw the attention of both Mr. Vincent and Mr. Dunkirk. Similar to Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austin’s classic novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Jane Ellsworth soon finds herself attempting to navigate the possibilities of romance while attempting to save her sister from making a rash decision that could lead to Melody’s downfall.

The aspect of Ms. Kowal’s novel that I most appreciated was the fact that she kept the use of glamour as a craft rather than something that was a continually propelling plot device. Much like the art of a good glamour itself, the use of this talent is tucked into the corners and niches of the novel, enhancing the story instead of making the story solely about the glamour.

While entertaining, SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY lacks the social commentary and intricate nuances that gives Ms. Austin’s novel, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, the depth and intrigue that drew readers into Elizabeth Bennet’s world. Instead, the novel relies heavily on the reader’s familiarity of the original text by Ms. Austin to not only inform the reader of character motivations and understanding, but to flesh out the character’s personalities themselves. I found myself a bit distracted at times when I would see a particular aspect in Ms. Kowal’s novel that would harken back to one of Ms. Austin’s novels; my mind would then travel to Ms. Austin’s work and get caught up in her story rather than the one that was in my hands at the moment.

Finally, I would have personally preferred to have a little more development of the relationship between Jane and her beau of choice but, hopefully, we’ll be able to fully delve into that aspect in the next novel of the series.

If you are able to accept the book for what it is instead of what you expect, you’ll find a well-written and enjoyable historical romance read.


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