Today I finished the second book of my 10 Speculative Fiction Books by Female Authors project. (I really need a snappier name for this project.) As I mentioned in my last post, one of my goals was to choose books that fell outside of my usual reading comfort zone.
This leads me to my review of the first book on my list…
One must not put trust in novelists, Beth; they create worlds to fit their own needs and drive their characters mad in doing it.
Why I chose this book
Ordinarily, the title and cover of this book would have been enough to send me skipping past. Why? It looks and sounds “girlie” and any description with the word “regency” in it makes me cringe. Sorry, but that’s the unpleasant truth. I went ahead and gave it a try because a) I was specifically looking for something out of my comfort zone and b) I know a little bit about the author—I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Robinette Kowal (very briefly) at Worldcon, several of my Worldcon pals raved about how incredible she and her books are, and I have listened to her on my new favourite podcast, Writing Excuses.
What it’s about
Shades of Milk and Honey is the first book in the Glamourist Histories series and is classified on Amazon as Regency Fantasy. Think Pride and Prejudice with magic (glamour).
The cover blurb
Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world 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.
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 honor 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.
I should make myself write “I will not be afraid of reading regency fantasy ever again” one thousand times. Before the end of the first chapter, I began to wonder why I hadn’t sought out this genre a long time ago. Sure, it helps that Kowal’s writing flows seamlessly, creating that delicious “must read one more chapter…” feeling, but since I count Pride and Prejudice and the Harry Potter series among my most beloved books, wouldn’t regency and fantasy be the best of both worlds?
Shades of Milk and Honey was just that. A literary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup that mashes together two different, but extremely tasty, genres perfectly.
This book has no shortage of glowing reviews on Goodreads, but I always like to skim the 1-3 star reviews to see what readers didn’t like about a story. Here, the central complaint seems to be that the book is not “deep” enough or that it presents itself as Austenesque but lacks the biting social commentary of the works that inspired it. This wasn’t a problem for me. I enjoyed the characters, I enjoyed the system of magic, I enjoyed the world, and the Austen flavour was like sprinkles on an already-tasty cupcake.
(Yes, I realize I’m talking about food a lot here).
In the first few chapters, I thought I was going to get a magic-infused retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but that didn’t happen and I’m glad. Kowal may have drawn her inspiration from Jane Austen, but the story is very much her own.
I zipped through this novel in two days and every moment spent with Jane Ellsworth, in her world, was an absolute pleasure!
Will I read more by this author?
Oh, yes. Not only was this book the perfect kick-off to my project but also I have been assured that the series only gets better.
You should read this book if…
- You’ve read Pride and Prejudice, (or any Austen novel), and liked it.
- You enjoy stories with magic but aren’t so keen on the dark, gritty, blood-and-guts type of stuff.
- You are a historical fiction fan with a leaning toward romance.
- You want a light, fun story to take you away from it all for a while.
Here’s where to get it on The Zon: Shades of Milk and Honey
Up next: Parasite by Mira Grant