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Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey35. Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey

In this alternate-universe Regency tale, the ability to use “glamour” (magic) is considered an accomplishment similar to painting landscapes or playing the pianoforte. Plain Jane Ellsworth is a skilled glamourist, but she fears that her talent will not compensate for her lack of beauty. Her younger sister Melody, on the other hand, is extremely pretty and attractive to men, though far less accomplished in working glamour. Despite the presence of magic in their everyday lives, the girls’ biggest concern is finding a suitable husband: Jane pines for a neighboring gentleman who seems to prefer her sister, while Melody flirts with a succession of unsuitable men. In the end, neither sister finds quite what she expected.

The premise of this book was extremely interested to me; I love a good Regency-era love story, and I was intrigued by the presence of a system of magic as well. However, the book didn’t live up to my expectations. First of all, the author’s debt to Jane Austen is immediately obvious: the plot essentially lifts elements from Austen’s novels and cobbles them together in a transparent fashion. Jane’s mother Mrs. Ellsworth, for example, is clearly a stand-in for Mrs. Bennet, but Mrs. Ellsworth’s complaints about her “nerves” aren’t nearly as funny. I was also disappointed by the romance; while I liked Jane’s eventual partner, I would have liked to see more interaction between them. I felt like I didn’t have enough time to become truly invested in their relationship. This brings me to my next problem with the book – it’s too short! There are a lot of promising themes, such as the sibling rivalry between Melody and Jane, but they’re all severely underdeveloped. A longer book could have made for a more compelling read. All in all, I was entertained by this book, but I definitely wasn’t impressed.

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