My Experience with Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Need to get your Downton Abbey fix now that the series is over, but you always wished a small dash of magic was incorporated? This is for you. Love Jane Austen, but you wished that it had a fantasy angle? This is definitely for you.

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I was predisposed to appreciate Mary Robinette Kowal’s fantasy-regency romance mashup because:

  1. Fantasy. That’s why we’re here, right?

  2. Historical (especially Regency and Victorian) romances are my favorite kind of romance.

  3. I like Kowal’s personality. That’s a big advantage.

By the very nature of it, this story is missing some of my critical enjoyment triggers: action, adventure, and epic scope. Even so, there was a lot to enjoy here, and the remaining triggers (vivid characters, magic, romance, and being transported to another time and place) were well developed.

The story follows Jane and her sister, Melody. Subject to the conventions of Regency life, they must find a man in want of a wife. Jane’s prospects are limited by her homely looks, while Melody benefits from comely features. The story feels a lot like Sense and Sensibility, but the execution isn’t a complete parallel. It’s easy to feel Jane’s emotional journey, set adrift in a sea of uninterested suiters while her sister is like gravity itself.

Glamour is the magic system in this story. It’s based on the manipulation of light and perception to create illusions. While Glamour feels more like window-dressing to in a romantically driven story, I’m longing to see how Kowal adds depth to it in the following installments.

While not entirely in the style of Jane Austen, Kowal commands her prose with regency sensibility while also remaining accessible to anyone unfamiliar with a narrative flow of nineteenth century storytelling. In other words, if you want to dive into Austen but find the writing too difficult to sink into, this might be a good place to start to get your mind in gear.

If you appreciate regency romance and you’d like to see what that looks like with a dash of magic is tossed in, give this a try.