Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Posted 26 June, 2012 by Pushy in Blog, Bookworms, Heather, Heather Book Review, Pushy, Pushy Book Review / 13 Comments

Shades of Milk and Honey

Genre: Historical Paranormal
Publication: August 3rd, 2010 by Tor Books
Borrowed from library
Get your own: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
synopsis from Goodreads

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.

Jane Austen and illusions are seamlessly woven together in this amazing historical fantasy.

Magic comes to Pemberley

Pushy:  Not literally of course! Shades of Milk and Honey is not a fan-fiction style homage to Jane Austen but rather the blending of that world, full of sense and sensibility, with one where magic is so commonplace that it’s considered one of the arts of refinement any lady would practice, like watercolors or music. In this world, illusions are spun out of “glamour”, a sort of blend between “ether”, or magic, and the fabric of the air around everyone.

Heather: Glamour (or magic) in this fictional world is used to enhance art, music, and even to make a person’s appearance more attractive. But not everyone can do glamour, and even then some people are more accomplished at it than others, leading to jealously, and even careers as glamourists as there are painters and musicians in our world.

Jane Austen…meet Jane Ellsworth

Pushy: It is in this world where we meet Jane Ellsworth, a woman worthy to bear the name of one of the most beloved authors of the Regency era. Jane Ellsworth is the older sister to the younger, prettier Melody. While Jane excels at the womanly arts, particularly that of working glamours, Melody is the beauty of her family, the one to whom much comes easier with a lovely smile or a sweet word. The one whom everyone simply assumes will make an advantageous match. And so it is with a nearly resigned heart that Jane watches her sister play at flirting with the one man she feels she might love.

Heather: I don’t normally read Regency Era Romance or Jane Austin, but from what I remember in my high school studies, Jane Ellsworth seems to be an amalgam of several of Jane Austin’s leading ladies while Melody is a mixture of secondary women. Even though Jane is supposedly plain in appearance, she is a very accomplished glamourist and is very smart. She easily deconstructs other people’s glamours to see how they work, and that leads to a bit of trouble later on in the book with a mysterious man. Jane’s sister Melody might be beautiful, but she isn’t above manipulating those around her to turn any situation in her favor–no matter the cost to Jane.

A True Master Arrives

Pushy: Into this society of staid country folks a true master of glamour arrives. Mr. Vincent is the very picture of the cranky, reclusive artist. He has a sort of dark, handsome allure that immediately attracts attention, but not always of the admiring sort. Jane seems inclined to like him, if for no other reason than to appreciate the artistry of his work, but his personality is so disappointingly off-putting that she resigns to keep her distance. However, Mr. Vincent is so innovative in his use of glamour and Jane so intuitive and full of untapped talent, that these two can barely keep from crossing paths every time they enter into society.

Heather: And this is where’s Jane’s natural curiousity and intelligence get her in over her head. She unintentionally picks apart Mr. Vincents glamurals and figures out even his most difficult glamours. Every time they cross paths, neither one of them leaves happy.

Friends and Lovers

Pushy: The main drama of this story is that of secret lovers: who has an understanding with whom, who wants an understanding with whom and who should really just stay away from whom. In the classic Jane Austen style, the romance is at the forefront. It’s done with a deft hand, making it both light and filled with some dramatic twists and turns. And I will admit, I was totally surprised to see which couples made it to the finish line.

Heather: There were so many people seeing each other behind the other ones back in this book, it was a bit of a guessing game to see who would be together in the end. It wasn’t entirely predictable with the side characters, however, so it was a bit interesting.

One Must Have a Strong Character

Pushy: I absolutely adored Jane. She’s such a wonderful, well-rounded character, filled with an insightful mind and a loving heart. I loved her particularly when she would get angry at the injustices around her, hinting at the steel hidden beneath her lace exterior. The male characters were absolutely fantastic in their own rights as well. I loved how I didn’t see who was the romantic hero and who was the bad guy until the end (well…I SORT of knew the bad guy, but it was still a pleasure to watch it unfold).

Heather: Jane fell a little flat for me. She spent the first half of the book not really reacting to the events around her. The first half of the book was very slow going for me, lacking in action, and it wasn’t until the second half of the book started that Jane finally started to do something about everything that was going on around her that I started to really enjoy the book and like her character.

Bewitched Rating

Bottom Line

Pushy: If you like Jane Austen’s world but also enjoy a hint of magic, you will simply adore this book. I know I did!

Heather: This is for serious fan’s of Regency Era Romance. The first half of the book really set up the world of glamour and the character dynamics, but there wasn’t much action until the second half of the book. Once Jane started to act, this book was great. The second half flew past quickly and ended on a high note.


Additional Notes

You may remember when we received Glamour in Glass a few weeks back in Pushy’s IMM post and how much she and the commenters SQUEED over the cover. Also, if you were at BEA, you may have seen Pushy, in line, nose stuck in a book. That book was Glamour in Glass.

Well, Heather was finally able to tear that book out of Pushy’s paws and we’ll be reviewing that sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey next week. And keep your fingers crossed, dear reader, we may have something special to share with you this Friday…. *wink*

Now, before we sign off, we want to know: do like historical fiction? If so, what’s your favorite era and do you like it rebooted (a la Steampunk) or straight up? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to share your favorite historical while you’re at it!
Now go and get lost…in a book!
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Lover of words and authors; absolute fan girl of books! Give me a good story, with characters I can love (and hate) and I'll follow you anywhere. Sing me a song of worlds I can dream of, and I'll listen forever.

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13 Responses to “Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal”

  1. I’m so glad you reviewed this. I’ve been wanting to ask the title of the book you were reading at BEA, but I couldn’t remember if Heather or Pushy had read it. I guess both of you. But the book you were reading at BEA was the second one to this, is that right?
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    Pushy 6/26/2012

    Thanks, Alison!! And yes, Glamour in Glass was the one I had my nose buried in during BEA. We’ll be reviewing that next week when Heather’s had a chance to finish it.
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  2. I love it when you guys write double reviews — they’re always so fun! My confession is that I’m usually not a historical fiction girl, but this fanfiction-style book sounds really cool. Art and music are two of my fave things (next to books, of course!), and that’s so cool how you don’t really know who’s the bad guy and who’s the romantic hero until the end… That adds a little bit of mystery! 😉

    Awesome review, you two! <3
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    Pushy 6/26/2012

    Thanks, Mimi!!! It’s totally a pleasure for us!!

    And to be clear, this is less fan-fiction style than AWESOME reboot of Jane Austen’s world. I think anyone would love this book, even if you’re not a historical fan. 🙂
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    Heather 6/29/2012

    That’s how I heard of this book, Mimi, by listening to Writing Excuses! While I’m not a big Jane Austen fan either, I was able to enjoy this book once the action kicked in.
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    Heather 6/29/2012

    Doh! Wrong spot, this one was for Lilian!
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  3. I’m a new follower, and this is the first time I’ve seen a “double” review here, and I LOVED it.
    I am not familiar with Mary’s work, but I regularly listen to her podcast (which she hosts along with some other writers such as Dan Wells) and I find her journey through writing so intriguing. However, I haven’t had the chance to read her novel yet…partly because I’m not a big Austen fan.

    I’m definitely looking forward to that review of Glamour in Glass! I was just looking at its GORGEOUS cover a few days ago. I think it ranks amongst my top ten covers so far in 2012.

    Lilian @ A Novel Toybox
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    Pushy 6/26/2012

    Welcome, Lilian!!! And we’re happy to hear you liked the “double” review, because with five bloggers here, it does happen pretty regularly.

    Glamour in Glass was SOOOO good!!! And I agree, the cover was phenomenal. That’s what got me to read Shades of Milk and Honey!

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting!!!
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  4. I absolutely love Jane Austen. She is my favorite author and I never get tired of reading her books as well as spin offs of her life or books. I love learning about just her too! If I could be any author that’s who I would have been and I love the feel of the Regency Era. Books that involve the Regency Era, Renaissance period, or Elizabethan period are the historical fiction books that I enjoy reading. I also like to read Southern Belle kind of books. I haven’t really read any books in those periods with supernatural events, but I also love books with that edge to it. This sounds like a great book and one that I will definitely be checking out! 🙂

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