Monday, 23 January 2012

7. "Shades of Milk and Honey" by Mary Robinette Kowal

Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: January 20th, 2012
Date finished: January 21st, 2012

Miss Jane Ellsworth is in danger of becoming an unwanted spinster. She is clever and witty and very skilled in the art of glamour (a sort of magic weave used to enhance everything from people, furnishings to music and art), which is everything a gentlewoman should be. But she's also very plain, and suffers in comparison to her lovely and vivacious younger sister Melody, who in turn, is upset that she possesses no skill at glamour.

Melody is the sister with multiple suitors, while Jane is convinced she'll be overlooked forever. Neither sister has too generous a dowry, so it's important for both to make good matches. Jane hopes that maybe her accomplishments with glamour will convince some gentleman to overlook her plain features, and worries about her sister's impulsiveness and carelessness. When Jane discovers that her young friend and sister seem to have been courted duped by the same callous fortune hunter, she taxes her skills to the utmost to save them and their reputations.

Shades of Milk and Honey seems to have been marketed with "What if Jane Austen wrote fantasy". This is a fairly apt description, and Robinette Kowal attempts to write in the style of Austen, down to period spelling like surprize and shew. Unfortunately, to anyone with a more than passing familiarity to Austen's novels, it's very obvious that the book is mostly a composite of various Austen plots, with a little dash of magic inserted, and a dramatic ending tacked on. As a huge Austen fan, not to mention a reader of all kinds of fantasy, this book should've been right up my alley. Yet exactly because it was trying so hard to be an Austen homage, instead of doing its own thing, it suffered in comparison. Regency fantasy can work really well, in Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's Sorcery and Cecilia trilogy, for instance, but it works because they're not trying to be Jane Austen, they're just setting their books in the same time period.

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