One of Mary Robinette Kowal‘s stories – The Lady Astronaut of Mars – was nominated for and won a Hugo Award this year. I liked the story and so I went ahead to check out more of her work. She is mostly known for her Glamourist Histories series which shares its general setting with Jane Austen‘s novels with magic (=glamour) added in.
Jane Austen‘s work is very popular and many writers have written Austen-themed or inspired novels. Some are great, many are “just” mediocre fan fiction. So what would Shades of Milk and Honey be like? The free kindle sample didn’t convince me that I would like the novel, so I put buying it off. (The e-book price is kind of high for this novel.) A positive review on another blog had me looking for a used copy. A couple of days ago I came across a reasonably priced copy and bought it. It arrived on Saturday, I finished it Sunday night. That’s fast (for me, anyway).
So, what’s the book about?
In the world Shades of Milk and Honey, proper ladies show their accomplishment just like in a Jane Austen novel with the difference that they have the additional option of using glamour/magic for decorating their homes and to be accomplished in. All this accomplishment aims at a single goal: Procure a desirable husband for marriage so as to be provided for and to be happy.
Shades of Milk of Honey shares many features of its set up with Pride and Prejudice. It’s just a little chopped down. Jane Ellsworth, the book’s heroine, has only one sister, but her parents very much resemble Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. Their situation is very similar to that of the Bennett girls: Their father’s estate is entailed away from them and they have to marry to provide for themselves. Jane and her sister Melody don’t get along so well. Jane is 28 years old, very plain, but very accomplished and expects herself to end as an old spinster because she is so unattractive. Her sister is ten years her junior, lacks talent and is very handsome. There’s a lot of sister rivalry going on in the novel as each sister envies the other for her looks (Jane envies Melody) or for her talents (Melody envies Jane).
So we have magic, sisterly rivalry, girls looking for The Future Husband and Bennett-like parents. What about eligible suitors? Possibly to get a better effect from the “sisterly rivalry”, both girls favor the same gentleman, Mr. Dunkirk. He’s not the only eligible man, of course. There’s a naval Captain, too, who seems to be molded on Mr. Wickham from Pride and Prejudice and the extremely talented Glamourist Mr. Vincent might also be eligible. So that’s the set up.
Most developments in the plot were to be expected from the setup. There were a few surprises, but generally there’s nothing spectacular happening. Still, the book was a fun and somewhat romantic read and I couldn’t stop reading after I had started it. The characters were fun and I was curious which sister would get Mr. Dunkirk. Would he love Jane despite her plain looks? I even read at night in bed, which is something I usually don’t do anymore. (Too tired.)
Now I don’t know whether to get the next books in the series as real books or as e-books. What will I do?