After reading The Last Policeman, I needed something light and fluffy to read. So I chose a book that’s been on my list for a while, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, the opening book in a series that combines Austen’s tales of love and society with magic. This book takes so much from Austen, in fact, that I rather enjoyed myself playing spot the character. I say, if you’ll forgive the pun, shades of Elizabeth Bennett and Eleanor Dashwood, Mr. Darcy, Marianne Dashwood, and Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. By adding magic, Kowal adds another layer to a story of romance and husband-hunting and scandal that makes this book just that much more fun to read.
The heroine of the story is Jane Ellsworth, a girl who many call plain but who is gifted with glamour–this world’s version of magic. She can create beautiful things with the ephemeral glamour, but she refuses to use her talents to snare a husband. She is very much like the sensible Eleanor Dashwood in her care of propriety. This is a very good thing because she has a very silly mother and a traditionally beautiful sister who lets her emotions carry her away. Jane has resigned herself to spinsterhood when several eligible men drop into the neighborhood. There’s the dashing Captain Livingstone. Then there’s the somewhat more reserved, but very kind and proper, Mr. Dunkirk. There’s also the mysterious Mr. Vincent, a glamourist with an artistic temperament. Jane doesn’t really expect to win any hearts, but she does become a good friend to Mr. Dunkirk. She’s intrigued by Mr. Vincent, who can do beautiful things with the magic.
As the story develops, the relationships start to get tangled together. Attachments start to form, but small scandals keep the course of love from running smooth. Kowal peppers the conversations with plenty of snark and sting, further reminding me of Austen’s writing. I had a great time reading this book. Then ending was just the icing on the cake for me. It was even more spectacular than I could have hoped. It was so good, in fact, that I immediately bought the sequel just so that I could keep reading Jane’s story.