by Mary Robinette Kowal
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.
Shades of Milk and Honey is a charming and imaginative read that fans of Jane Austen and light historical fare will enjoy. Set in Regency England, Shades of Milk and Honey is the story of Jane Ellsworth, the oldest daughter in a well to do family. Jane is an extremely talented “glamourist.” This means that she has a talent for magic and is able to manipulate what they eye sees. In Jane’s society, glamourists are artists, using their skills to create lifelike images and scenes that enhance every day life. But Jane’s talents are often overlooked by the physical beauty of her sister.
The back cover jacket makes this book sound much more like a mystery than it is. This is very much a slice of life, a peek into the every day world of Regency England mixed with a little magic. The pacing of the story reminded me very much of an Austen novel. It’s a little slow and is mostly filled with the actions of every day life. Some might find this boring, but I really enjoyed meandering through this world with Jane and learning it through her eyes. I liked the concept of magic as an art form and really liked the way that Kowal seamlessly integrated it into the world. Though the book touches a little on issues of class, it really doesn’t probe too much and the social commentary is left to a minimum.
I really liked Jane’s character. I always relate more to the long suffering sister in these stories than the fresh, young ingenue. I felt bad for Jane living in a household in which she always seemed to be overlooked. Part of this is her own fault though and I wish she had stood up for herself more. Melody treated her especially bad and I really wanted Jane to just smack her. Despite her lack of a backbone most of the time, I found Jane to be smart and generous, and I truly liked her.
Of course, as a romance lover, I also enjoyed the romantic elements of this book. It’s a Regency novel, so nothing too scandalous goes on but there are plenty of misunderstandings and meetings in dark corners and walks in the garden to keep it interesting. The love interest (who I will keep a secret) is also quite swoon-worthy.
This would be a great summer beach read or a book to pick up when you’re looking for something lighthearted and fun. A wonderful blend or Regency romance and magic combine to create a unique and enchanting world that you won’t want to leave. I, for one, cannot wait to read the sequel and see where Jane’s adventures take her next.