Monday, March 17, 2014

Shades of Milk and Honey review

After a couple months full of theater and schoolwork, I decided to treat myself to some reading: Shades of Milk and Honey, the first book of the Galmourist Histories, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I had the pleasure of meeting Mary at GenCon 2012, but only last week did I manage to pick up one of her books. I'm glad I did. I wasn't sold on the idea of Regency fantasy when I started, but as I read, I came to enjoy how well Mary's magic system works itself into the Regency world.

I've been increasingly interested in the Regency period in the last few years. I've read Pride and Prejudice upwards of a dozen times. (I may or may not have dressed as Elizabeth Bennet for Halloween last year.) It's an era that really lends itself to the aesthetic, and Mary works it.

The magic system is called glamour. Glamourists use breath (ether) in different arrangements to create illusions, even sounds and scents. The process isn't described in much technical detail, but that's not the point. The subtlety of glamour blends very well into the social setting of the Regency and thus the relationships that populate the story.

Our main character is Jane, a woman who is so nice and polite I at first couldn't believe her, but she soon develops into a remarkably subtle character. She's learned to repress her emotions and put stock in herself based on her propriety. By the end, she learns how to open herself up to her passions (and eventually takes less crap from her spoiled sister, whom I just wanted to slap. Even the sister, though, is developed enough to be believable). Love and family, in traditional novel of manners fashion, take the forefront.

Mary's elevator pitch for the series is "Jane Austen with magic." There are a few sprinklings of humor of a type you wouldn't get in an Austen book, but the idea is true to the setting. I've read that the other books depart from the typical Austen-esque plotline, but I think these characters (and glamour itself) have the potential to make other story types not only memorable, but also fun.

You may need a love of Regency or romance to get you in the door, but the characters and the magic will keep you there. I enjoyed this story and the world of glamour very much.

Find Mary's blog here.

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