Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England 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.There are some writers whose writing astounds me. Mary Robinette Kowal is one such writer and I was so close to missing her altogether. This year, for my birthday, M. J. Starling (he of the WriterCollider podcasts, on which I've been a guest) handed me Shades of Milk and Honey (The Glamourist Histories) .
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 honour 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.
The cover, startlingly similar to my beloved copy of Persuasion, peaked my interest but what with getting engaged and moving in with my long-suffering now-fiance, I didn't have a chance to sit down and read it.
And then I was ill. And when I'm ill I watch back to back episodes of Gavin and Stacey, I eat comfort food and I read.
Now our flat is a decent size, but nowhere near big enough for all my books to have moved with me, so I turned to SoMaH...
It's rare that prose manages to stun me. Poetry? Fairly regularly. But prose? Not so much. So I was astounded when I delved into a world of regency, romance and magic.
Essentially, Shades of Milk and Honey reads as if Jane Austen herself had written it. The style is so reminiscent of that era, that even glamour seems natural. Magic is a skill - just like playing the pianoforte or dancing - that every marriageable young lady should have. And Jane Ellsworth has it.
She may not be as pretty as her younger sister Melody (and thank goodness Kowal allows her to ruminate on this without martyring herself), but she's fearlessly intelligent, with a thirst for knowledge and an inquisitiveness for anything new, that this doesn't matter to us.
And the descriptions of the glamours (magical holograms) are so exquisite that I was enchanted.
The novel itself delves into darkness, and the ending was utterly satisfying, though leaving the option open for further novels (of which there have been three so far).
A total surprise and a welcome addition to my bookshelf.