July 2024
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Review: Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal

Billed as Jane Austen with magic, Shades of Milk and Honey starts out with our protagonist, Jane Ellsworth, anguishing over the fact that she and her sister have feelings for the same man. Jane’s sister Melody is beautiful and socially accomplished, turning the head of every man she sees, while Jane is plain but has a much greater skill in the art of glamour. Jane is 28, though, and thus firmly on the shelf. She’s resigned herself to spinsterhood and determines to allow her sister the greater happiness, even as her heart cries otherwise and she longs for not only skill in glamour but a little love of her own.

This was an absolutely perfect book for the Read-a-thon and many thanks to Memory for telling me so! It is beautifully written and evokes Jane Austen’s world incredibly well. Kowal’s prose is neat and refined, giving a real sense of Jane’s emotions while never straying into pity-me sessions. It’s the type of writing I adore – restrained but with true passion lying underneath. I have only read this book and already I can tell you I would happily read anything else Kowal writes.

The world itself too is wonderfully done. Of course, Regency England is an appealing time period in its own right, but the addition of magic to the world just rounds it all off beautifully. It reminded me of The Magicians and Mrs Quent in that it’s an homage to Jane Austen but has its own twists too. Glamour fits right into the Regency world; it’s a feminine accomplishment, like drawing or singing, but as usual men are the instructors and generally the exhibitors as well.

As for the story, not much of it comes as a surprise; I’ve read all of Austen’s novels and I think most of us know how they’re meant to end. Some of it, particularly toward the end, was a bit melodramatic, but nothing really exceptional in a world that gave birth to the fretting Mrs Bennet or Mr Woodhouse. It was sweet and romantic and I felt the book was perfect for how I read it – straight through, no breaks, simply caught up in the beauty of the writing and the pace of the story.

Shades of Milk and Honey is a lovely read, an excellent choice for someone who enjoys light fantasy or has read all of Austen’s work and is looking for more. Recommended.

I am an Amazon Associate. I _ this book.


5 comments to Review: Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal

  • Lucy

    You know, I had a mixed reaction to this one. On the one hand, I did love it, and on the other….

    The first two-thirds or so were perfect, but the ending felt very “off” to me, partly because (without mentioning spoilers) it was so historically unlikely. In Jane Austen’s world, I felt it should have stayed true to that social code.

    The other problem was that sometimes I felt as if the writer was being a bit too obvious about borrowing from Austen’s characters and situations. I’d be reading through and thinking, “Oh, there’s Miss Darcy. And that’s Colonel Brandon.” In the novel, Jane is chided for looking too deeply at the mechanics of glamour–she is supposed to appreciate the illusion. And throughout the book, I found that the mechanics, however well-executed, really kept intruding.

  • I’ve seen mixed reviews up until now, but you make it sound lovely. I especially like the idea of magic as a female accomplishment, but taught by men.
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  • I love any Austen mash up so I better add this one to my wish list!
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  • I was so excited to find a copy of this at my library booksale clearance a few weeks ago – everything I’ve heard about it makes it sound so wonderful!
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  • Meg

    I can’t believe this one has flown under my radar! Sounds like a really enjoyable read, and goodness knows I love anything Austen. The magical elements intrigue me.
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