So, I think it’s safe to say that that last week was ridiculously awful, and that it’d be really nice if THIS week is filled with puppies and rainbows and bottomless pints of ice cream. Honestly, I spent a good chunk of last week just reading comfort books—one of which was Without A Summer, the latest (and third) volume in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series. If the series sounds familiar, it might be because the first book—Shades of Milk and Honey—was last month’s Book of the Month here at Pub Crawl, thanks to yours truly.
I read Shades of Milk and Honey earlier this year and IMMEDIATELY fell in love with the characters, the world, and the lovely writing. I’d picked it up because I’d heard someone describe it as Jane Austen WITH MAGIC (!!!!), and couldn’t get to the bookstore fast enough. BUT before I begin gushing and explaining why YOU should grab a copy of this book as soon as possible, here’s a little about it:
Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England 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 DEVOURED this book. And then the sequel (Glamour in Glass). And then had to wait a few months for Without A Summer to release (spoiler: it was worth the wait!). The series has all the charm and wit of Austen, fascinating tidbits of real history, and well-rounded, wonderfully-drawn characters. Jane is a compelling, sympathetic heroine who will instantly steal your heart. She’s cunning, and vibrant, and has an artist’s soul—qualities that have quickly earned her a spot as one of my all-time favorite heroines.
And the magic in this book—oh, the magic! Kowal blended magic (glamours) so well into Regency England that while I was watching the 2009 adaptation of Emma last week, I was legit surprised to NOT see Emma envious & irritated by how much everyone adores Jane Fairfax’s stunning glamours. Really, the magic is THAT well done. (And I now want to read versions of every Jane Austen book with glamours.) The magic was subtle, yet complex—and I was so, so fascinated by not just the use of glamours as a woman’s art (and as a skill that lends itself toward marriageability), but to the larger, darker uses of the magic (the second book, Glamour in Glass, deals a bit with the Napoleonic Wars).
And then there’s Mr. Vincent. And I don’t want to give anything away, but let me just say that 1) I LOVE HIM and 2) While Shades of Milk and Honey is pretty squeaky-clean, the romance in the next two books (still pretty tame and subtly done) is SO HOT. Like, toe-curlingly hot (again, without being graphic in the least).
Really, I could probably keep going and going about these books—about the compelling secondary characters, about the super-cool usage of historical details, and how very, very much I want a BBC adaptation of this RIGHT NOW. But I’ll just end this post by saying that the wait for the fourth book—Valour and Vanity—feels like FOREVER (especially after Kowal described it as “Jane Austen writes Ocean’s Eleven.”), and Kowal now has a lifelong fan in me.
AND—because you guys also might need a bit of a pick-me-up this week, I’m giving away a copy of Shades of Milk and Honey (which has now earned a place on my All-Time Comfort Books list)! Contest ends next week (4/29), and is US-Only (sorry!).