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Mary Robinette Kowal – Shades of Milk and Honey

December 12, 2011

151. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (2010)

Length: 304 pages
Genre: Regency Fantasy Romance

Started: 19 November 2011
Finished: 20 November 2011

Where did it come from? The library booksale.
Why do I have it? Totally Clare’s fault.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 25 March 2011.

If glamour means I
don’t have to sweep the corners,
then I’m all for it!

Summary: The Ellsworth estate is entailed to Mr. Ellsworth’s uncle, so it is critical that his daughters Jane and Melody marry well. Melody, at least, is young and cheerful and attractive, and does not seem to lack for the attentions of several prospective suitors. Jane, other the other hand, is older and plainer than her sister, although she is more talented at magic – a skill which is considered to be as important to the education of a well-brought-up lady as music or drawing – and she seems resigned to remain unmarried forever, despite her growing affections for one of their neighbors. Jane frequently resents her sister’s flighty and flirtatious behavior, but when Melody gets in over her head, no one but Jane will be able to save her.

Review: Shades of Milk and Honey was a fun, easy, light read, a perfect diversion for a rainy Sunday morning. While I think its cover blurb oversells its uniqueness – the literary world is not currently undergoing a shortage of historical fantasy in general, or even Austen-esque Regency Fantasy in particular – this book is a fine example of the genre, and does incorporate some unique elements. I especially liked the idea that magic – in this case focused around the manipulation of visual and occasionally auditory glamours – is primarily, although not exclusively, a feminine art. No secret societies of learned (and therefore typically male) magicians here, but magic as a matter of course, used to improve a painting or brighten a room (or change one’s appearance, although Jane dismisses that sort of thing as frivolous). Kowal does an excellent job of blending magic into the world of country balls and dowries and sitting rooms, in a way that feels completely organic – something that is probably helped along by how effortlessly she keeps her prose and her tone period-appropriate.

This book is much more character-driven than plot driven, and a lot of the action (such as it is) takes place within Jane, as she deals with her feelings about her sister and and her own prospects and the various men she encounters. It does absolutely have the feel of an Austen novel, which cuts both ways: the familiar feel makes it an easy and comfortable read in which to get absorbed, but also meant that what plot there was unfolded pretty predictably. I also wish that characters other than Jane had had some more depth to them; I particularly think that the book would have been meatier if Melody had been a more layered character. But regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it’s one of those books that feels like an old favorite even when you’re reading it for the first time. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Regency fantasy fans should check it out for sure, as should Austen fans who want to dip a toe in the fantasy waters without straying too far from shore.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Bookshelves of Doom, A Dribble of Ink, Grasping for the Wind, The Literary Omnivore, Steph Su Reads, The Written World
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The Ellsworths of Long Parkmead had the regard of their neighbours in every respect.

© 2011 Fyrefly’s Book Blog. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Fyrefly’s Book Blog or its RSS feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is being used without permission.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2011 3:44 pm

    Sadly, this one is still languishing on my list. Hoping I get to it in 2012.

    • December 26, 2011 12:59 pm

      Amy – It’s good reading for a lazy weekend morning, or a sick day, or some time when you just want something cozy and comfortable and light.

  2. December 12, 2011 3:46 pm

    I love the description that it feels like an old favorite even on a first read – that’s actually perfect for this novel. It’s remained with me decently as well, even though I read it during a Read-a-thon a few months ago. I agree that it’s not a blockbuster, just a smooth fun read.

    • December 26, 2011 1:00 pm

      Meghan – I think this would be great for readathon – quick, light, engaging, and not too long.

  3. December 12, 2011 5:29 pm

    I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I expected. My review of it here:

    Still, it’s nice to see lots of Austen-esque books coming out these days.

  4. December 13, 2011 9:11 am

    Guilty as charged, hee.

    I’m glad you liked it! The sequel is coming out soonish, and I very much look forward to it.

    • December 26, 2011 1:01 pm

      Omni – Oooh, I didn’t realize there was a sequel! I thought she did a nice job of providing closure with the ending, while leaving the possibility of a sequel open… but I didn’t know one was in the works! Off to go investigate…

  5. December 14, 2011 12:28 pm

    I read this book this year, too, and really enjoyed it!

    And, yay, to the comment that says the sequel will be out soon. I didn’t really think it NEEDED a sequel, but I want to read it. :)


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