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I Belong

Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

shades-of-milk-and-honeyTitle: Shades of Milk and Honey

Author: Mary Robinette Kowal

Genre: Historical Fantasy/Magical Realism

Series: Glamourist Histories (Book #1)

Publication Date: June 7, 2011

Format: Paperback, 306 Pages

ISBN-10: 0765325608 (Tor/Macmillan)

ISBN-13: 978-0765325600 (Tor/Macmillan)

Reviewed by: Michelle


Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right–and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

This debut novel from an award-winning talent scratches a literary itch you never knew you had. Like wandering onto a secret picnic attended by Pride and Prejudice and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Shades of Milk and Honey is precisely the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen…if only she had been a fantasy writer.

Quick & Dirty: This is what would have happened if Pride and Prejudice had magic.

Opening Sentence: The Ellsworths of Long Parkmead had the regard of their neighbours in every respect.

Excerpt: No

The Review:

For the most part, if you are a fan of the classics, you may have already read Pride and Prejudice. And if you are a fan of P and P, then you may have probably wondered, “What if Austen wrote it with a bit of fantasy?” Well, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey is just that. What can be categorized as magical realism, is simply a great retelling of a loved classic.

Jane lives a life filled with courtseys, afternoon tea, and glamour – and not in the sense you’re thinking of. Jane can alter her surroundings with magical glamour. In the Regency era, and in Long Parkmead, families such as the Ellsworths, hire glamour masters, such as Mr. Vincent to alter their homes, the experiences within, and to the hosts themselves. Jane is complex and interesting, and I enjoyed her. I just wish I didn’t automatically think to compare her to Austen’s Jane.

While I think that Shades of Milk and Honey has many Austen qualities, I wish it wasn’t compared to it. Jane has many qualities of Austen leading females. The story itself comes from a regency era, bringing in personality, manners, and swoon. The writing style is fluid, and relatable, but most of the time I was comparing and trying to piece together which character of Kowal’s is just like Austen’s. And that is unfair, in my opinion.

Most of Kowal’s writing builds up the plot and the setting. I didn’t feel that the story didn’t actually begin until about a third of the way through (or even about half way). I didn’t comprehend the magic aspect, which was truly a glamour of what others experience visually, until later on. While I feel the premise has great and unique potential, there was something that was lacking. This missing link prevented me from truly connecting to the characters and to the story.

One last thing. I was not expecting the ending. It threw me off, and maybe that was due to not being able to connect. I thought the story would align closer to Pride and Prejudice, but that was my fault.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. I feel that I missed something, and it is not Kowal’s fault. There are often times when I don’t relate to a story due to different elements, and often times due to my personal preferences.

Notable Scene:

Jane thought of Mr. Dunkirk and of the happy hours in Beth’s company, which had afforded Jane time to closely judge his character and to find it in every way as good and honest as it had appeared from a distance. She had not hitherto allowed herself to cope, but if Melody’s affections had truly transferred to Captain Livingston, that would remove the most immediate obstacle to AMr. Dunkirk. It left her plainness and her awkward carriage, but to a man such as him, might these things be overlooked in favour of her talent?

But these were idle fancies, not suitable for voicing even to herself, much less to her father, howsoever much she honoured him for his concern on her behalf. Jane said merely, “There is no one to speak of.”

Her father broke off his study of the shrubbery and turned to her. Jane kept her composure under his gaze, knowing that she had told nothing but the truth.

The small hope in her heart was nothing of which she could speak.

Glamourist Histories:

1. Shades of Milk and Honey

2. Glamour in Glass

3. Without a Summer

4. Valour and Vanity

5. Of Noble Family


FTC Advisory: I purchased this copy of Shades of Milk and Honey.  No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.  


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