Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Posted by Simcha 5:59 AM, under | 6 comments

Although I'm not usually drawn to books that are compared to works by Jane Austen, the elegant cover, delectable title and promise of magic all combined to make Shades of Milk and Honey a book that immediately intrigued me.

From the Publisher: 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.

This debut novel from an award-winning talent scratches a literary itch you never knew you had. Like wandering onto a secret picnic attended by Pride and Prejudice and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Shades of Milk and Honey is precisely the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen…if she had lived in a world where magic worked

I want to start off by saying that just physical handling this book was a pleasure in its own right. The book is a hardcover with a beautiful dust jacket and deckle edged pages and you get the sense that a lot of care had been put into all aspects of its design . It's been a while since I read a book that wasn't just a plain paperback and I really enjoyed the experience. Plus it looks real pretty sitting on my shelf.

As for the content within those lovely deckled pages, I enjoyed that too. The story was lighthearted and fun and the writing had an old-fashioned quality to it that I found to be both charming and soothing. The occasional mis-spelling of certain words which were meant to imitate Austen's writing, such as "shew" instead of "show," were a bit distracting but I did get used to it after a while.

One problem that I had with the book, though, was that it suffers from a couple cases of "intelligent women behaving idiotically," which I always find frustrating. When Jane is trying to figure out which young gentleman her sister has fallen in-love with, for some reason she considers every man except the one who visits her sister every day. For a supposedly smart woman, Jane is being unbelievably dense. I was also frustrated with Jane's constant acquiescence to her younger, bratty sister, who never shows any affection of her own towards Jane.

While I very much enjoyed reading Shades of Milk and Honey, after finishing it I was slightly disappointed that there hadn't been a bit more to the story. It's pretty much just a story about two young women looking for husbands, but the promise of magic had led me to expect that there would be a unique angle to the conventional romantic plot, but the magic ends up being a pretty minor part of the plot. The relationships between the characters also lack the depth and complexity which Austen's books do contain and the romantic entanglements were resolved in a rushed manner that surprised me. As for the magic, while I really liked the vivid descriptions of how it is manipulated and formed for artistic purposes, I was disappointed that the magic system is used in such a limited way in the story.

While Shades of Milk and Honey didn't turn out to be exactly what I had been hoping for, it was a pleasurable way to pass a couple of hours and I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a lighthearted and entertaining romantic tale.


I never say no to lighthearted and entertaining romantic tales :) So I guess it would work for me then

I was just looking at this! I have the same pet peeve as you - supposedly intelligent women behaving idiotically does not make a good story!

The package is always something that draws me to a book although I have read many that were wonderful that I did not like the cover of. It is always nice when the book is a wonderful as the package.
Thank you for sharing.

I'm all for lighthearted so I'm still gung ho about wanting to read this. Wish the magic was a bigger part of the plot though. I guess I'll see how I like it.

I think that things like shew instead of show would annoy me more than they annoyed you, but this book does look good. Mostly, I love how much you enjoyed handling it. It's been such a long time since I've had a nice, beautiful hardback book in my hands!

Sorry for the belated responses everybody -

Blodeuedd- I think you would enjoy this book. While it didn't really stay with me for that long, after I finished it, it was enjoyable enough that I would probably reread it- which I don't often do with books.

StephanieD- I was actually reminded of that scene in Soulless when Alexia can't figure out that all she needs to do is erase the words on the robot's forehead in order to stop it. Such incidents in books are irritating but they don't usually ruin a book for me.

Wrighton: I don't usually pay too much attention to these things but Shades of Milk and Honey impressed me enough that I would keep it for that reason alone.

Janicu: I haven't seen any of the other fantasy book reviews complain about this so maybe I'm alone in my feelings about the magic in this book. I look forward to hearing your opinion.

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