15 February 2014

Shades of Milk and Honey - Mary Robinette Kowal

Jane is a plain country lady with an extraordinary talent; she can work magic. She can create images and effects by folding a kind of magical tapestry, she just picks up a thread from the ether and works it into reality. Her sister, Melody, is beautiful but not nearly so talented in the use of glamour, instead of working on herself she spends her time chasing men. Everything is as normal until the roguish Captain Livingston arrives, along with the mysterious famous Glamourist, Mr Vincent, whose work captivates Jane,

If you love Jane Austen, you'll appreciate this slightly magical take on the Regency world. There are so many likenesses between this book and Austen's work, such as the two sisters being quite like Elinor and Marianne from Sense and Sensibility, brooding male leads, handsome captains and the inevitable scandal. A fair bit has been taken from Pride and Prejudice, with the most striking one being Jane's parents being a lot like the Bennets in terms of character.

The story, if you have read books or watched film adaptations of Austen's works, is actually fairly predictable, especially once you realise how similar it is to Pride and Prejudice. And it is fair to say that if you were to compare the dimensions of each character, you would find that Austen's are more developed. However, it is a small book, and no doubt the characters you would want to know more about will be discussed in other Glamourist Histories. Despite this, the book is a quick and enjoyable read. The talk of glamour as such a commonplace thing is very interesting to read, and the way it has filtered into normal life is nice. It does not change their lives as much as it could have, but there is something good about the fact that the author has not differed too much from the regency setting, otherwise there might be no point in setting it there.

As for the characters, Jane and Mr Vincent were drawn very well, particularly our heroine, who was everything a good Austen protagonist should be. However, I would like to know more about Mr Vincent's life, and I thought that their romance was rushed nearing the end of the book, as if she suddenly liked him. There also is no description of Mr Vincent; something I would have liked as it was difficult to imagine him. Melody, the Ellsworths and the Dunkirks are all well-drawn, however, more description would have been a good addition.

As to the story, it didn't take long to get into it, and although some parts were slow, it kept a good pace throughout. The climax was really good and very exciting, with the plot seeming to propel the reader closer and closer to finale. At this point you cannot stop reading and was quite unlike any Austen novel, despite the fact that the circumstances that it arrived in were extremely similar.

This story is a fresh take on a classic style of literature, it is light, magical reading and is a great way to introduce teenagers to Regency and Austen. 8 out of 10.