by Mary Robinette Kowal
Amazon / Goodreads
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.
Review:I have been meaning to read this book for so long, and now that I have finally gotten to it, I can't believe I didn't pick it up sooner, because it is wonderful. It is so much like a Jane Austen novel with the time period, and the intimate way the reader looks into the life and emotions of the main character Jane Ellsworth. And what a character Jane Ellsworth is. I so identified with her hopes and dreams and her down to earth, practical nature. She's caring and devoted to her family, and to make up for her 'plainness' she has a talent for glamour that makes her stand out. But she is always proper and honest and humble. She is my favorite kind of heroine.
There are times when I read stories with heroines who have to make a decision and they make the wrong one, for reasons that are somewhat supported, but it's one of those moments when you want to shake the heroine for doing something stupid. Things like not telling someone something important for instance. And in every case where Jane could make that kind of a silly decision in this book - where she's afraid to say something because she's scared of the reaction or the consequences, she did not make the stupid decision. Even if it was difficult for her to do what was right, she did it. And it made me love her even more, because she felt so logical and real. And that kind of a character very much appeals to me.
The romance aspect was the strongest part of this book, and it was glorious for me because it was a slow burn. And it was unclear who exactly was interested in who. When a romance starts with obvious attraction and hints as to who is going to get together from page one, it does get a bit predictable for me, I like a little more plot to be introduced beforehand. But thankfully this was not the case with this book. There was the character growth we needed to see from Jane to start, and then lots of romantic entanglements so that it was difficult to know how it would all end. But it was resolved perfectly, with so much sighing and smiling on my part. Jane Ellsworth deserved someone special and she got him.
This book is very light and entertaining. The beauty of it is in the characterization and in the emotion. While I think the rest of the series gets more exciting and adventurous, this first book is quietly sincere and a touching, lovely tribute to the magic of an Austen story. With actual magic!