Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this book. I've read a bit of Jane Austen but was never a huge fan. I was quite pleasantly surprised.
The story centers around Jane Ellsworth, a young lady of some social standing whose family lives in Dorchester. Jane is not unattractive, but her somewhat plain looks are overshadowed by her sister, Melody, who is the beauty of the family. Jane is talented in the womanly arts: painting, music and the use of glamour, the manipulation of magic to create illusions of nature or art. Still, she is jealous of her sister's beauty and the attention she gets from the young gentlemen. Melody, for her part, is jealous of Jane's talents. When a neighbor hires a talented glamourist to create a magical mural, Jane is eager to learn how he creates the incredible scenes he does. Melody, meanwhile, becomes involved in a romance that turns disastrous, and Jane finds herself the one to try to save her family's reputation, as well as her sister's honor. Along the way, Jane finds her own way to love and fulfillment.
This is a quiet story. It is not an action packed, adventure quest. It is the day to day life of people in an Austen-like society: social calls, dinners, formal manners.. There are some faster paced scenes at the end, but in general, the story does move slowly, which may be a put off for some. However, the pace suits the story quite well and doesn't detract from the enjoyment.
The most fascinating thing about the story, for me, was the use of glamour. It is also a quiet thing, this glamour magic. No chanted spells, no fiery flashes of wizard light. The glamourist pulls and shapes "folds" of glamour to create art. It brought up images of a prism bending light waves for me. Glamour is here considered somewhat of a woman's art, and all young ladies of society are expected to be somewhat versed in its use. Most of the men don't seem to be able to do more than admire the finished product. Mr. Vincent is an exception, a glamourist of enough talent that he can make a living as an artist in the craft. It's a different sort of magic system, and fits perfectly into the Regency era setting of the story.
The book is a fairly quick read, which I find a nice change of pace. The characters are good, if a bit less developed in some cases than they could be. The story is entertaining, the magic system is quite different from the usual, and I found myself enjoying it a lot. I look forward to the next book, Glamour in Glass, due out in early April.
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